Tooth decay is the gradual softening of the enamel (the hard, protective layer that covers the teeth). In the absence of timely dental intervention, tooth decay can spread to the dental cavities, eventually resulting in tooth loss. Everyone with poor dental hygiene is susceptible to tooth decay, although it is more common among children and young adults.
Understanding Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is typically the end-result of unchecked bacterial buildup on the teeth. These bacteria, which are brought about by most of the food you eat, feed on the food particles that remain in your mouth, and thereby produce acid. This food and bacteria combination, in addition to the acid and your saliva, forms a sticky film called plaque. The whole process takes about 20 minutes after you finish eating.
If you don’t remove the plaque (through brushing) on time, it hardens and turns into a hard, sticky substance called tartar. Plaque and tartar cause tooth decay, which if not adequately treated, can lead to gum or periodontal disease.
Cavities, on the other hand, are formed when uncontrolled plaque buildup wears out the enamel. It may be painless and unnoticeable during the initial stages, unless you undergo a dental checkup. However, if not treated or filled early enough, cavities become more prominent and mess up the nerves and blood vessels in the tooth. If the hole gets infected, it could result in the total destruction, and consequently, the loss of the teeth.
Causes of Tooth Decay and Cavities
Carbohydrates – starches and (mostly) artificial sugars – are the most common causes of tooth decay. You may also want to avoid, or brush immediately after eating sticky foods such as raisins, jam, or peanut butter as they tend to stick to your teeth. This attracts bacteria which, as mentioned earlier, is the key culprit in tooth decay. Eating snacks frequently also increases your chances of getting tooth decay due to the frequent formation of plaque.
While young children and teens are more likely to have cavities, adults are not safe either, particularly if their dental hygiene is poor. Also, older people are more likely to get gum disease which, as you know, destroys the gums and the roots of the teeth, leaving them more susceptible to cavities.
Diagnosing and Filling Cavities
If you go for regular dental checkups, your dentist will spot any signs of cavity or decay early enough. As a result, the treatment will be cheaper and less painful. X-rays can also detect cavities even when the naked eye cannot.
Treatments for cavities mainly involve filling with composite resin, getting a crown or root canal treatment. Filling is the most basic procedure, and works for mild to moderate cavities. Crowns and root canals are usually used in more severe cases.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay
Preventing tooth decay is pretty simple and straightforward – just brush your teeth at least twice a day, or after every meal if you can. Also, go for a dental checkup (and cleaning) at least twice a year, and any time you experience discomfort in your mouth.