Tooth Decay & How To Prevent It
Did you know that dental decay is one of the most prevalent diseases affecting both children and adults, second only to the common cold? In fact, according to the World Health Organization 60-90% of children worldwide, and nearly 100% of adults have dental cavities. While tooth decay is a worldwide epidemic, it is a condition that is largely preventable.
As a matter of fact dental caries, which is the medical term for decay or cavities, develop because of an infectious process that causes progressive damage to tooth structure. The culprit behind all of this is dental plaque, a sticky film that accumulates on your teeth and harbors harmful bacteria that thrive on the sugars in your diet. As these bacteria metabolize the sugars, they produce acids, which over time can de-mineralize or eat away at healthy tooth structure. Beginning as a simple pinpoint defect on the outermost enamel layer of your tooth, untreated dental decay will continue to compromise healthy tooth structure as it works its way to the inner layers of the tooth. Depending on the extent of the cavity present in your tooth, you can experience anything from a little periodic tooth sensitivity to extreme and continuous discomfort. Without proper care a cavity can lead to significant damage to tooth structure, irreversible damage to the nerve of the tooth, a dental infection, tooth loss, and even more serious consequences to your overall health and well being.
The following factors can contribute to your risk of developing tooth decay:
- Inadequate Oral Hygiene Practices - By not regularly brushing and flossing your teeth or seeing your dentist for periodic dental cleanings and care, dental plaque will accumulate and lead to the formation of cavities and gum disease.
- Improper Nutrition - A diet high in sugars, frequent snacking as well as acidic food and drinks creates an oral environment that promotes tooth decay.
- Dry Mouth - When adequate dental saliva, due to medical conditions or as a side effect of some prescription drugs, is not available to constantly bathe the teeth, cavities are more likely to develop.
- Bruxism - Chronic teeth grinding strips away the outer protective layer of enamel and makes the teeth more vulnerable to decay. • Enamel Defects and Deeply Grooved Teeth - Deep crevices or defects in the dental enamel harbor plaque, and are likely areas to develop cavities.
- Receding Gums - Exposed tooth roots due to receding gums do not have the added protection of an outer layer of dental enamel. With the accumulation of dental plaque these roots are susceptible to decay.
Of course, establishing an excellent oral hygiene regimen at home and seeing your dentist for routine care is the best way to prevent cavities. Your dentist can instruct you in the best methods of brushing and flossing, and advise you as to which foods promote dental health. Foods or habits that may be harmful to your dental health will also be discussed. As part of your preventive care program your dentist will perform a thorough professional dental cleaning to remove any accumulated dental plaque and particles that your toothbrush has not reached. For some patients special toothpastes and rinses and other supplemental measures may provide an added level of protection against dental decay. In children, periodic fluoride treatments and the application of dental sealants can effectively reduce their risk of cavities.
Even if a cavity is present, your tooth can be gently and precisely treated and restored to full function. Your dentist will inform you of all your options in care. With advances in dental technology and restorative materials, your dentist can help you to enjoy a healthy and beautiful smile for a lifetime.