Tooth decay, or Cavities (Dental Caries), are the main reason most of us go to the dentist-besides normal exams. Tooth decay can occur in children even before they form their permanent or “Adult” teeth and can affect anyone at any age.
Almost everyone has had a cavity in their lifetime, and if left untreated the condition only gets worse. We are going to explain what causes decay and some of the simple steps you can take to avoid and try to avoid tooth filling or extractions.
What exactly is a Tooth?
Everyone knows what a tooth is, but let’s start with some of the basics.
A tooth is a part of your body that is alive like every other organ in you. It is what enables you to begin the digestive process by breaking down your food into digestible sized particles.
- It consists of a root, which anchors the tooth in your jaw.
- The nerve, which is part of the living tissue of the tooth.
- The alveolar bone, which is the bone surrounding the root and holds the tooth in place.
- The gingiva or gum, which protects the root and bone that holds the tooth in place.
- The pulp which lies beneath the enamel and contains blood vessels.
- The dentin which is just below the enamel and the enamel itself. The enamel is the outer layer that gives the tooth its strength. It is also the part of the tooth that once damaged, does not re grow like other parts of your body.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is simply, a deterioration of the tooth enamel. Once this outer coating is damaged it needs repair because tooth enamel does not re grow.
- Decay starts as small spots on the tooth. These can be white and can be caused by bacteria forming.
- The next stage in tooth decay is a brown spot. This is an indication that bacteria’s have taken hold, and the enamel has now been eroded requiring repair.
- Larger cavities appear as portions of the tooth, and possibly the root that have been eroded-usually through neglect. In many cases the tooth is still repairable, but now the process is more complex.
- Complete tooth decay. If left untreated, the decay can progress to the point where the tooth must be replaced.
What are the causes of tooth decay?
One of the major causes of tooth decay is poor care. Yes, believe it or not, you can be the major cause of your own tooth problems. Let’s start with the basics.
- Poor dental care. This is really easy but easy to ignore also. Not brushing your teeth is an invitation to tooth decay. Not brushing allows food to collect on the surface of the teeth, between the teeth and ultimately this leads to decay.
- Not flossing. Flossing cleans the spaces between your teeth where even the most careful brushing cannot reach.
- Poor diet. Yes-all those delectable treats we love so dearly like soda, candy, cake, wine, coffee and an endless list of others are all enemies of a healthy tooth.
- Cigarettes and pipes and cigars don’t have acid or sweets in them right? Well-wrong. Smoking is something that you put in your mouth and whenever you do that you stimulate the digestive process which includes the production of digestive juices-or acid, Your body doesn’t know that it is just smoke-it just knows something is in your mouth and produces acid to ” digest” it. That acid erodes your tooth enamel.
- It is OK to wait until it hurts to go to the dentist. That is, unfortunately the way many people think about dental care. The truth is that not getting regular dental checkups is inviting tooth decay. Small cavities turn into large ones, and can reach a point where the tooth cannot be saved.
How can I prevent Tooth Decay?
An ounce of prevention can be worth thousands of dollars in cure. Preventing tooth decay is simple and relatively inexpensive.
- Brush your teeth after every meal. You have heard this since you were in kindergarten and it is still true. Use a medium or soft brush and use an up and down rotating motion on the sides and a back and forth motion on the biting surfaces. When you have a meal, even if it is just a snack, the food leaves a residue on the surface of the tooth. A chemical reaction occurs inside your mouth that turns this residue into an acidic compound that literally eats away the enamel of the tooth. If you cannot brush after a snack-a rinse will get rid of some of the harmful deposits.
- Use the right toothpaste. Ask your dentist to recommend a type that is right for you. Overly abrasive products may brighten your smile but not if they are wearing away that precious enamel.
- Floss at least once a day. This gets rid of the food articles your brush might miss.
- Avoid too much sweet candy, cakes and sodas. There are many other products high in sugar and acid that are just not too healthy for your teeth, but your overall health.
- Smokers beware. As mentioned before-smoking caused acid production in your mouth that can lead to decay.
- Last-but most important-get a dental check up at least once a year-preferably twice.
- The steps to a healthy smile and a healthy you are simple and the payoff will last a lifetime.