Tooth decay, caries, holes. These are all terms that we use to describe the bacterially- driven breakdown of the tooth's enamel and inside tissues. Tooth decay can destroy the tooth completely, causing it to die.
So, what causes it?
Many factors contribute to decay. It can be complex and relies on the interaction between the environment in your mouth, the types of bacteria present and the effectiveness of plaque removal.
Basically- natural bacteria live in your mouth and are always forming into a sticky plaque. The plaque interacts with deposits left on your teeth from sugary and starchy foods and produces acids. These acids damage tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or demineralising the enamel, which weakens the teeth and leads to a cavity (hole) forming.
So for decay to form- there has to be undisturbed bacteria, a sugar or starch source and an environment that allows the bacteria to thrive.
In its early stages it can be reversed, but if the decay progresses past the first layer of the tooth (which is harder than bone) and into the softer layer underneath, the decay then becomes irreversible, and a filling must be placed to halt the process and repair and restore the damaged tooth. If the decay remains unchecked, it can progress further again into the pulp or nerve of the tooth, eventually causing death of the pulp and an abscess to form. The end result of this is severe toothache and even facial swelling, and the only treatment options are Root Canal Treatment or extraction of the tooth.
What do I do about it?
Prevention is much better than cure, and decay is a largely preventable disease. Often, something as simple as a change to your diet or oral hygiene routine can make all the difference to keeping it at bay.
Here are some tips-
1. GOOD ORAL HYGIENE
Good home care with thorough twice day brushing and once day flossing will remove as much bacteria as possible- id there is minimal bacteria- there is minimal chance of the decay progressing. Your hygienist and dentist will check you cleaning at your preventive acre appointments, and alert you to any areas you may be missing.
2. REDUCE SUGAR INTAKE AND FREQUENCY OF SNACKING
Foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars), such as soft drink,sports drinks, energy drinks, lollies, ice cream, some breakfast cereals, and cake, and even some fruits, vegetables and juices may contribute to tooth decay.
Start by trying to reduce or even eliminate refined sugars from your diet. This includes things like limiting sugar in coffee and tea, as well as being aware of foods
Another dietary factor is the frequency of meals or snacking. People who snack throughout the day or night tend to have a higher decay rate.
This is because every time you eat, plaque releases acids, so snacking frequently increases the attacks on your teeth. It is best to stick to set meals.
3. USING FLUORIDE AND/OR CALCIUM CONTAINING PRODUCTS
Damaged (demineralised) enamel can be hardened again (remineralised) by calcium and fluoride. This means that if decay is in its very early stage it can potentially be reversed! Always use a fluoride- containing toothpaste.
4. REGULAR DENTAL VISITS
This will allow the dentist to pick up any changes at an early stage.