Tooth decay is commonly known as cavities or caries and is one of the most common diseases that people face. Indeed, tooth decay happens when plaque, which is the sticky substance that forms on teeth, combines with sugars from the food we eat, producing acids that can damage and weaken tooth enamel.
While there is no cure for tooth decay beyond professional dental treatment, there are actions you can take to prevent it.
Cavities or tooth decays are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and bad cleaning of your teeth.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems and re especially common in children, teenagers, and older adults. However, anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.
What is a Tooth Decay or Cavity?
Tooth decay is the softening of your tooth enamel, resulting in the damage of the structure of the tooth caused by acids that are created when plaque bacteria break down sugar in your mouth.
If this loss of mineral from the enamel is left untreated, a cavity, or hole in the tooth, can occur, and without treatment, these holes can grow larger over time and may even destroy a whole tooth.
The plaque acids can also eat away at the dentin and eventually cause what is known as a root cavity. As a result of the root cavity, nerves in your teeth become exposed and you may feel pain when you eat or drink.
If you feel any pain near the root of your tooth, there are chances that you may have some form of tooth decay and should consult with a dental professional, as soon as possible.
Taking good care of your teeth and preventing the dreaded dental cavity is an important part of maintaining your overall health and wellness. A dental cavity could be a sign of poor oral health and hygiene and is one of the most common results of tooth decay.
Causes of Cavities and Tooth Decay
Starting from the loss of tooth mineral (demineralization) to eating all the way through the tooth to cause a cavity, there are a number of steps required for cavities to form.
When foods containing carbohydrates become trapped between teeth and are not completely removed with brushing and flossing, tooth decay may occur. As such, major causes of tooth decay are sugary, sticky foods and beverages.
The more sugar one consumed the more acid, which gets produced leading to decay. Sugar combines with a plaque to weaken the enamel, and that leaves you vulnerable to tooth decay.
Each time you eat a sugary snack, your teeth are vulnerable to damage from the acids, and it is important to understand the causes of tooth decay so you can learn the proper way to care for your teeth and care for your health.
Cavity and tooth decay factors to watch out for:
- Poor Oral Hygiene: irregular brushing of teeth allows plaque to build up and attack the tooth enamel.
- Plaque Formation: Plaque is caused when bacteria, acid, food particles, and saliva all combine in your mouth, which then adheres to your teeth and builds up over time. The acid in the plaque attacks the enamel of your tooth and eventually creates holes in your teeth, otherwise known as cavities.
- Dry Mouth: Saliva helps wash plaque from the teeth, and if you have a dry mouth with very little saliva, plaque may build up more quickly.
- Eating and Drinking: This is the beginning of the problem. Since we all have to eat and drink to be alive, there’s no way to avoid this, but it does play a significant role in the formation of cavities. When you eat or drink, debris remains on your teeth until you brush. Even after brushing, you may not be able to remove all food particles or carbohydrates from your teeth, and such foods that tend to cling to your teeth can increase your risk for a tooth cavity. Be sure to brush your teeth regularly, especially after drinking milk or soda, or after eating dried fruit, dry cereal, hard candy, caramel, taffy, raisins, sugary cereals, and cookies.
- Bacteria and Acid: Bacteria naturally live in your mouth, and when these bacteria digest the carbohydrates that linger on your teeth and in your mouth, acid forms.
- Medical Problems: sometimes, underlying medical issues can contribute to a tooth cavity by causing acid from your stomach to flow back into your mouth.
- Some types of cancer treatment that expose the head and neck to radiation can promote a tooth cavity by changing the makeup of the saliva to promote increased bacterial growth, and bulimia increases the risk of a tooth cavity when the teeth are exposed to stomach acid during frequent vomiting.
The signs and symptoms of cavities vary, depending on their degree and location. When a cavity is just beginning, you may not have any symptoms at all, but as the decay gets larger, it may cause the following signs and symptoms:
- A toothache, or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Too much Tooth sensitivity
- Pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
- Visible holes in your teeth
- Brown or black staining on any surface of a tooth
- Pain when you bite down on something
Everyone who has teeth is at risk of suffering from tooth decay or getting cavities. However, the following factors can increase risk:
The Tooth Location
Tooth decay most often occurs in your back teeth (molars and premolars), which have lots of grooves, pits, and crannies, and have multiple roots that can collect food particles. This makes them harder to keep clean than your smoother, easy-to-reach front teeth.
Certain Foods And Drinks
Foods such as milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dried fruit, cake, cookies, hard candy and mints, dry cereal, and chip that cling to your teeth for a long time are more likely to cause decay than foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
Frequent Snacking Or Drinking
You give mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attack your teeth and wear them down when you steadily snack or sip sugary drinks. Also, sipping soda or other acidic drinks throughout the day helps create a continual acid bath over your teeth.
Bedtime Infant Feeding
When babies are given bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids at bedtime, these beverages remain on their teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding bacteria that cause decay. Similar tooth damage can occur when toddlers wander around drinking from cups or bottles filled with these beverages.
If you don’t clean your teeth soon after eating and drinking, plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can set in.
Not Getting An Adequate Amount Of Fluoride
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent cavities and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage. This is why fluoride is added to many public water supplies, and also a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouth rinses.
Younger Or Older Age
Cavities are common in very young children, teenagers, and older adults. Over time, teeth can wear down and gums may recede, making teeth more vulnerable to root decay. The use of medications that reduce saliva flow also increases the risk of tooth decay and older adults have more chances of using such medications.
Lack of saliva promotes tooth decay since saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and plaque from your teeth. Substances found in saliva also help counter the acid produced by bacteria. However, as stated earlier, certain medications, some medical conditions, radiation to your head or neck, or certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of cavities by reducing saliva production.
Worn Fillings Or Dental Devices
Over time, dental fillings can weaken, begin to break down or develop rough edges, thus allowing plaque to build up more easily and makes it harder to remove. Moreover, dental devices can stop fitting well, allowing decay to begin underneath them.
Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth (reflux). This reaction can wear away the enamel of your teeth and cause significant tooth damage. This exposes more of the dentin layer of the tooth to attack by bacteria, creating tooth decay. Consult your doctor to see if gastric reflux is the cause of your enamel loss.
Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities, as stomach acid from repeated vomiting or purging, washes over the teeth and begins dissolving the enamel. Eating disorders also can interfere with the production of saliva.
How to Prevent Tooth Decay from Getting Worse
While not curable, you can try to stop it early with a good oral care regimen. Here are some tips to help prevent cavities:
- Buying an Oral-B electric toothbrush to help remove plaque better and help prevent cavities from forming in the first place. Good oral and dental hygiene can help you avoid cavities and tooth decay.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day and ideally after every meal with fluoride toothpaste. Brush after eating or drinking, using fluoride-containing toothpaste. It’s also important to be aware that enamel is able to repair itself by using saliva’s minerals, and this is greatly assisted by the fluoride sources like toothpaste.
- Rinse your mouth regularly, and if your dentist feels you have a high risk of developing cavities, he or she may recommend that you use a mouth rinse with fluoride.
- Visit your dentist regularly, and get professional teeth cleanings. That, as well as regular oral exams, can help prevent problems or spot them early.
- Consider dental sealants, which is a protective plastic coating applied to the chewing surface of the back teeth. It seals off grooves and crannies that tend to accumulate food, protecting tooth enamel from plaque and acid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sealants for all school-age children. Sealants may last for several years, but they need to be checked regularly.
- Avoid frequent snacking and sipping, and whenever you eat or drink beverages other than water; try to rinse your mouth afterward. You help your mouth bacteria create acids that can destroy tooth enamel if you snack or drink throughout the day. Thus, putting your teeth under constant attack.
- Eat tooth-healthy foods, since some foods and beverages are better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in the pits of your teeth for long periods, and brush soon after eating them. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and unsweetened coffee, tea, and sugar-free gum increase saliva flow and help wash away food particles.
- Consider treatments with periodic fluoride treatments, especially if you aren’t getting enough fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and other sources. Your dentist may recommend custom trays that fit over your teeth for application of prescription fluoride if your risk of tooth decay is very high.
- If you’re especially vulnerable to tooth decay, because of a medical condition, your dentist may recommend special antibacterial mouth rinses or other treatments to help cut down on harmful bacteria colony in your mouth.
- Chewing xylitol-based gum along with prescription fluoride and an antibacterial rinse can help reduce the risk of tooth decay or cavities.
A few simple lifestyle adjustments can have big payoffs for your dental health:
- Monitor what you eat, and get your greens. Dark, leafy fruits and vegetables add calcium and reduce acids in saliva.
- Ensure to stay hydrated always, and drink plenty of tap water that contains fluoride. A dry mouth allows plaque to be retained in the mouth.
- Watch your coffee, soda, and alcohol intake, since ingredients in certain liquids and foods discolor the tooth surface, and too much phosphorus depletes calcium.
- Take supplements like Vitamins C and D to help support tooth health. Check with your physician before taking any supplements.
- Visit your dental professionals for a checkup twice a year. Getting a professional cleaning and polishing not only keeps your smile bright but is also an opportunity to have stubborn plaque Also, a thorough visual exam will reveal small issues before they develop into bigger and complicated ones. X-rays show potential problems that the naked eye can’t detect.