Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is one of the most common of all disorders, second only to the common cold. It usually occurs in children and young adults but can affect any person. It is a common cause of tooth loss in younger people. Brushing your teeth every day, as well as avoiding foods and drinks that are bad for your teeth, can help prevent tooth decay.

Bacteria, acid, food debris, and saliva combine in the mouth to form a sticky substance called plaque that adheres to the teeth. Plaque begins to build up on teeth within 20 minutes after eating. If this plaque is not removed thoroughly and routinely, tooth decay will not only begin, but flourish.

The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the tooth and create holes in the tooth (cavities). Cavities are usually painless until they grow very large and affect nerves or cause a tooth fracture. If left untreated, a tooth abscess can develop. Untreated tooth decay also destroys the internal structures of the tooth (pulp) and ultimately causes the loss of the tooth.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF POSSIBLE TOOTH DECAY

  • Tooth pain or achy feeling, particularly after sweet, hot, or cold foods and drinks
  • Visible pits or holes in the teeth

Most cavities are discovered in the early stages during routine checkups. The surface of the tooth may be soft when probed with a sharp instrument. Pain may not be present until the advanced stages of tooth decay. Dental x-rays may show some cavities before they are visible to the eye.

Oral hygiene is necessary to prevent cavities. This consists of regular professional cleaning (every 6 months), brushing at least twice a day and flossing daily.

Chewy, sticky foods are best if eaten as part of a meal rather than as a snack. If possible, brush the teeth or rinse the mouth with water after eating these foods. Minimize snacking, which creates a constant supply of acid in the mouth. Avoid constant sipping of sugary drinks or frequent sucking on candy and mints.

Topical fluoride is also recommended to protect the surface of the teeth. This may include a fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash.