Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth structure and can affect both the enamel (the outer white coating of the tooth) and the dentin layer of the tooth.
Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris, and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.
1. What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is the process that results in a cavity (dental caries). It occurs when bacteria in your mouth make acids that eat away at a tooth. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection and tooth loss.
You can easily prevent tooth decay by brushing and flossing your tooth regularly, seeing your dentist for teeth cleaning and checkups, and avoiding foods high in sugar.
2. What causes tooth decay?
The combination of bacteria and food causes tooth decay. A clear, sticky substance called plaque that contains bacteria is always forming on your teeth and gums. As the bacteria feed on the sugars in the food you eat, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth and over a period of time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay.
3. What are the symptoms?
Tooth decay usually does not cause symptoms until you have a cavity or an infected tooth. When this occurs, a toothache is the most common symptoms. The pain can be sharp, sudden, and shoot deep into the nerve endings of the teeth.
Tooth sensitivity in one or more teeth triggered by hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods and drinks, or even by breathing cold air can also be a symptom.
4. What to do if you suspect tooth decay
You should suspect tooth decay if you or a family member feels severe pain in the tooth/teeth especially on drinking cold or hot drinks. See a dentist immediately.
5. Possible complications of tooth decay.
Tooth decay can cause infections of the heart and blood vessels; it can also cause tooth loss.
As said earlier, bacteria normally present in the mouth break down sugars to form acids which eat up the “white” of the teeth and gums causing cavities. The bacteria also work on the sugar in the mouth to form thick substances (plaques) that stick to the teeth. These plaques in turn aid the activities of the bacteria to create more cavities. Some of these bacteria can find their way into the blood stream and cause infections in the heart and the blood vessels.
6. Prevention of tooth decay
Tooth decay can be prevented by:
a. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice daily.
b. Flossing once in the night before retiring for the day.
c. Eating Foods like Carrots, Apples.
d. Seeing a Dentist regularly for oral examination and dental cleaning.
e. Avoiding excessive consumption of carbohydrates especially sugars
f. In addition, researchers have found that a chewing gum that contains the sweetener called xylitol temporarily retards the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay.