What Is “Dental Caries”?
Dental caries, also known as tooth decay, is a transmissible infectious disease that causes damage to your tooth structure. Dental caries or tooth decay occurs when decay-causing bacteria in your mouth and on your tooth surface turn sugar into acid and attack the tooth’s hard tissues. Dental caries needs treatment because it can put your oral health at risk.
If tooth decay advances, it can turn into more problematic dental issues like dental cavities and lead to tooth pain, discomfort, infection, tooth abscess, and even tooth loss in severe cases.
- Dental cavities result from untreated tooth decay and refer to tiny or big holes in the tooth structure.
- A tooth abscess is a painful dental condition resulting from untreated cavities. A tooth abscess refers to a pocket of pus that builds up inside the teeth or gums due to bacterial infection.
Dental caries is considered one of the most prevalent oral health conditions and happens to baby teeth or permanent teeth. Tooth decay in young children is called early childhood caries or baby bottle tooth decay. Lately, improved oral hygiene and drinking fluoridated water have caused a decline in the disease.
What Causes Dental Caries or Tooth Decay?
Tooth Decay Process
Dental plaque is a sticky colourless film of bacteria that grows on a tooth surface and under or above your gum line. Plaque forms on your teeth surface when bacteria in your mouth combine with starchy foods and sugary foods and drinks. Dental plaque contains bacteria and must be removed regularly by proper brushing. The bacteria present in plaque is very harmful to the structure and the health of the tooth.
Plaque bacteria use the sugars in sugary drinks and sweet foods and produce acids in the process. These acids can cause mineral loss, damage the tooth enamel, and lay the groundwork for tooth decay and cavities.
What Are the Risk Factors of Dental Caries or Tooth Decay?
Who’s at Risk of Tooth Decay?
While dental caries or tooth decay can affect anyone, some people have an increased risk. Generally, people who do not maintain good oral hygiene, do not remove harmful bacteria in their mouth, have lots of sugary and starchy foods and drinks have an increased risk of developing tooth decay.
Common risk factors of dental caries include:
High Sugar Consumption
- Eating many sweet foods and drinking sugary drinks such as soft drinks are highly damaging to your teeth and elevate your risk of developing tooth decay. The sugar in these foods will combine with plaque bacteria in your mouth and on the surfaces of your teeth and start to create acid to attack your teeth enamel. Acid production will lead to the loss of tooth substance and damage your tooth structure. Lost tooth structure will pave the way for tooth decay or dental caries.
Improper Oral Hygiene
- One of the most common risk factors for tooth decay is inadequate oral hygiene. The American Dental Association recommended that everyone brush their teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes to prevent cavities. Removing plaque and food particles with proper brushing and flossing prevents the accumulation of harmful bacteria (decay-causing bacteria) in the mouth and improve your oral health.
- The saliva produced by our salivary glands will keep our mouth moist and fight the acid caused by the oral bacteria. The saliva production will help prevent tooth decay by getting rid of the plaque and food particles in the mouth.
- Taking certain medications, having some medical conditions, not drinking enough water, drinking lots of coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola, not drinking enough water can decrease saliva production and cause a dry mouth. Certain chemotherapy drugs can also interfere with saliva flow and give rise to a dry mouth.
The Location Of the Teeth
- Your back teeth (molars and premolars) are more susceptible to tooth decay. Back teeth are relatively harder to clean due to having lots of grooves and pits, making them better candidates for plaque buildup and a higher risk of developing dental caries.
Inadequate Access to Fluoride
- Fluoride can prevent tooth decay and enhance oral health by strengthening the tooth enamel. Fluoride may also reverse the early stages of tooth decay and prevent further decay.
- Being in frequent and consistent contact with fluoride and fluoridated drinking water can make your teeth stronger and resistant to acid produced by oral bacteria and lower your risks of dental caries.
- Tooth decay seems more common among young children, adolescents, and older adults.
- Younger children sent to bed with a bottle of sweetened milk, juice, or formula have a high risk of developing baby bottle tooth decay.
- Teenagers who enjoy frequent snacking or sipping at sugary drinks put themselves in danger of tooth decay.
- Dental caries or tooth decay is also common among older adults partly because of the natural wear and tear of the teeth. Older adults’ consumption of some medications will make their teeth more prone to dry mouth, leading to tooth decay.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- The condition is a digestive disorder causing your stomach acid to flow back up into your mouth continuously.
- These acid-containing contents can wear away the enamel and damage the tooth structure. As the enamel begins to erode, it will expose its underlying dentine layer and increase the risk of dental caries.
How To Prevent Tooth Decay or Dental Caries
Tooth Decay Prevention
Keep your mouth moist.
- Saliva flow in your mouth can prevent tooth decay. Saliva will get rid of the sugar from your tooth surface by washing it away and sending it into your stomach, preventing acids from hurting the tooth structure. Saliva can also reverse the early stages of tooth decay by restoring tooth minerals.
Practice good oral hygiene
- It’s essential to follow proper dental hygiene and brush your teeth twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. Proper brushing technique is also critical to prevent tooth decay. Make sure you brush inside, outside, and the chewing surfaces of your teeth properly. Regularly flossing is also essential to remove the food particles between your teeth.
Visit your dentist regularly.
- Visit your dentist regularly to check your teeth and prevent cavities and dental caries. Dental problems are easier to treat if detected early by a dental professional. Your dentist may suggest fluoride treatments to treat superficial dental caries and remineralise your tooth enamel.
Drink tap water
- Since fluoride has been reported to have cavity-fighting properties, it is added to most public tap water supplies. Drinking tap water can help reduce the risk of dental caries. If you drink bottled water instead of tap water, or if your public water supply does not contain fluoride, you can ask our Brisbane dentists what oral care products are better options for you.
Ask for dental sealants.
- Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied on the chewing surface of the back teeth to protect them from tooth decay. Dental sealants are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all schoolers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sealants can prevent cavities up to 80 per cent after being applied to the teeth.
Cut back on sweet snacks and beverages.
Try to limit your sugar intake, such as sugary snacks between meals, to avoid dental caries as much as possible. Sticky, sugary foods are more damaging to the teeth and increase your risk of developing tooth decay compared to non-sticky sugary foods.
What Are The Symptoms of Dental Caries?
Tooth Decay Symptoms
It’s essential to be aware of the warning signs associated with dental caries. Tooth decay may not show any apparent signs or symptoms at its early stages.
As tooth decay advances, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Tooth pain
- Pain while biting down on food
- Tooth sensitivity
- Visible holes or pits in the affected tooth
- White, grey, brown, or black spots on the affected tooth
Dental Caries Treatment
The American Dental Association recommends you visit your dentist regularly twice a year to prevent most dental issues or before they worsen and lead to future complications. Depending on the severity and stage of tooth decay, your dentist will suggest different treatment options.
The tooth decay process can be reduced by improved oral hygiene and fluoride treatments. Professional fluoride treatment may reverse the early stages of tooth decay by strengthening the name. In-office fluoride treatments involve the dentist painting a gel onto the teeth to absorb the enamel.
If tooth decay has caused a hole in the affected tooth, the decayed material (the decayed tooth tissue) should be removed, and the lost tooth structure must be filled with filling material.
FYI: Dental fillings may be made of dental amalgam typically used for molars and premolars or composite resin that will match the colour of your natural teeth. Gold or ceramics are also used for filling material, but they will cost more. in young children tooth-coloured restorations are the material of choice. However, in bigger cavities, your dentist may recommend a stainless-steel crown for longevity for your child.
If decay has reached the tooth pulp and the tooth is prone to bacterial infection, the dentist may perform root canal treatment. After a root canal, a dental crown may be put on top of the affected tooth to restore its look and functional strength. Dentists will administer anesthetics for root canals to reduce the pain and discomfort of the procedure for their patients.
FYI: Pulp is the innermost part of the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves.
If much of the tooth structure is lost and too damaged beyond repair, the dentist will remove the affected tooth.