It’s extremely likely that you, or someone you know, has tooth decay. Also known as cavities or dental caries, tooth decay is one of the most common medical problems in the world. People of all ages, from babies to senior citizens, can develop tooth decay.
But have you ever thought about what causes it? Your teeth are covered in one of the hardest substances found in the human body, tooth enamel. What can cause holes to develop in your enamel? The short answer: plaque. However, tooth decay is a multi-step process. Understanding what causes it can help you take the best possible care of your teeth and prevent decay.
What Leads to Cavities?
A three-part process can lead to cavities and tooth decay. The first part of the process is the formation of plaque on the surface of the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film that contains bacteria and sugar. It forms whenever you eat or drink, particularly when you eat or drink foods with a lot of sugar and starch.
Bacteria that naturally live on your teeth start to eat the sugars and starch, which leads to the formation of plaque. If you brush your teeth quickly enough, you can remove the plaque from your teeth and minimize any damage.
If you don’t brush regularly, acid produced by the plaque will start to wear away the enamel on your teeth. One early sign of tooth decay might be a white spot forming on a tooth. The spot is a sign that the enamel has been weakened. Eventually, enough enamel can be worn away to create a hole in the tooth, known as a cavity.
If a cavity isn’t filled or treated quickly, decay can continue. The hole can get bigger and can reach deeper into the tooth until it hits the nerve. At that point, tooth decay can become pretty painful.
What Makes Some Teeth More Likely to Decay Than Others?
There are several factors that can increase your risk of tooth decay. Your diet can have an impact. If you eat a lot of sugary and starchy foods or foods that cling to the teeth, you might be at a higher risk for developing decay compared to someone who doesn’t eat a lot of sugar.
How much you eat and drink can also influence your risk of developing tooth decay. If you are constantly sipping sugary drinks or snacking throughout the day, you’ll have a higher risk of cavities compared to someone who only eats and drinks at mealtimes.
Your oral care routine also plays a major role in your tooth decay risk. If you don’t brush regularly, the plaque that forms on your teeth will stay there, where it can cause a considerable amount of damage and even harden into tartar.
The type of toothpaste you use can influence your risk of developing cavities as well. To get the most benefit, look for toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride not only helps to prevent cavities, but it can also reverse them in the earliest stages.
What Can You Do to Prevent Tooth Decay?
If you want to prevent cavities and decay, there are many steps you can take. You can get in the habit of brushing your teeth at least twice a day, using a toothpaste that contains fluoride. It’s also a good idea to see your dentist regularly for cleanings. At your dental appointments, your dentist can examine your mouth and treat any cavities before they get too big.
Another way to help reduce your risk of tooth decay is to drink tap water or water that has added fluoride. Most tap water is safe to drink, while most bottled water doesn’t have the fluoride you need to keep your teeth healthy.
How Can You Treat Tooth Decay?
How your dentist will treat your tooth decay depends on the stage of the decay. In the earliest stages, they might be able to reverse a cavity by giving you a fluoride treatment. The fluoride will help to restore the lost enamel. Usually, fluoride treatments are performed in-office.
In the case of more advanced tooth decay, your dentist is likely to fill in the cavity. A cavity filling might be made of a metal amalgam or a tooth-colored resin. Filling in the cavity will stop the progression of decay but won’t reverse the decay itself.
If tooth decay is severe, it is likely that your dentist will need to go to more extreme measures to treat and attempt to save the tooth. They might replace the tooth with a crown, for example. If the decay has reached the root of the tooth, they might need to perform a root canal to remove the infected and damaged material and to attempt to save the rest of the tooth.
Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also performs teeth cleanings and dental exams. During an exam, he will check your teeth for decay and cavities and offer advice on what to do next. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.