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Tooth Decay (Dental Caries)


Worldwide, tooth decay is one of the most common oral health problems. Children are most susceptible to cavities and tooth decay, but it can happen to anyone who has teeth, including infants, adults and seniors.

Cavities are decayed areas on your teeth that create little holes or openings. Cavities are also called tooth decay and caries. The most common reason why cavities and tooth decay occur is due to poor oral hygiene, frequent sugary snacks and slowly sipping sugary beverages. If cavities and small amounts of tooth decay are left untreated it can lead to severe toothaches, infections, tooth loss and more. Good oral hygiene habits and regular visits to the dentist should prevent tooth decay from happening.

Tooth Decay Symptoms

Sometimes we can see the decay forming, but most of the time we can’t until we can feel it. Tooth decay usually begins in those ‘hard to reach’ places such as behind the molars and in between teeth, making them hard to spot until they’ve already formed. This can cause symptoms like pain, sensitivity to hot, cold and sweets, and bad breath.

Other than toothaches, another common sign that a cavity is forming is a chalky white spot on the surface of the tooth that indicates the enamel is wearing away. This is referred to as incipient decay.

What Causes Tooth Decay?

The biggest cause of tooth decay is a combination of bacteria and food. Plaque (clear, sticky substance) contains bacteria and is constantly forming on our teeth and gums. The bacteria feeds off sugars we eat, turning the sugar into acid and eroding our teeth. Over time, the plaque eats away at the enamel on our teeth, making them weak and susceptible to breakage, chipping, cracking, and other dental conditions. Other activities that cause tooth decay are:

  • Poor brushing
  • Not flossing
  • Waiting more than 20 minutes to brush after eating
  • Drinking less sugary beverages over a longer period of time

Did you know that cutting down your soda intake doesn’t stop tooth decay from happening? Many people believe that if they cut down the number of dark sodas they drink and drink them slower to make them last longer, they are practicing good oral health habits. In actuality, the opposite is happening. The longer it takes you to drink that soda, the longer the plaque has to coat your teeth and gums. Dentists recommend drinking your beverage quickly. One dentist even said “Don’t baby sit it. If you’re going to drink it, drink it- quickly.”

Tooth Decay Treatment

The different treatment options offered for tooth decay depend mainly on the severity of the cavity. It may be a simple fix, such as a filling or it could be a complex procedure such as a root canal. If the tooth decay is extensive, your dentist may recommend tooth extraction. If you notice the chalky, white spots forming on your teeth, you may want to begin using fluoride right away, as it’s a sign that cavities are forming.

Preventing Tooth Decay

The best way to prevent your teeth from decaying is to practice healthy oral hygiene habits and visit the dentist at least twice a year. Brush your teeth with a soft bristle toothbrush and use toothpaste that specifically contains fluoride. Dental floss and mouth rinse should not be ignored either. ACT is one of the most common types of mouth rinse recommended by dentists since it restores minerals to soft spots, strengthens enamel and kills bad breath germs.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is a term used to describe tooth decay in a child’s mouth due to being sent to bed each night with a baby bottle. Parents who send their child to bed with a bottle filled with anything other than water stand a chance of their child developing ‘baby bottle tooth decay.’ Milk and juice are two common fluids that babies are put down to sleep with. However, both contain sugars that stay in the child’s mouth. Children are more susceptible to tooth decay since their gums and teeth are still developing. The enamel on baby teeth is significantly weaker than the enamel on adult or permanent teeth. If you are a parent who is using milk, juice or some other fluid other than water when putting your child down for bed, you are putting your child at a higher risk for developing tooth decay and future oral problems.

Page updated February 2011



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