Tooth Decay

Information on the causes of plaque and oral bacteria, dental caries and tooth decay.

    tooth decay, dental plaque and bacteria

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    1. What is Tooth Decay?
    2. What Causes Tooth Decay?
    3. Diagnosing Tooth Decay
    4. More Information on Tooth Decay

    What is Tooth Decay?

    Tooth decay is the process that occurs as a result of the destruction of the tooth structure. When a cavity affects the nerves, toothache and pain (as well as sensitivity to cold and hot foods and beverages) may also occur.

    It affects children and teenagers as well as adults. Pregnant women tend to be more susceptible to tooth decay especially when they are experiencing a sugary food craving.

    What Causes Tooth Decay?

    Tooth decay develops when bacteria (that live in the mouth) convert food containing carbohydrates (sugar and starch) such as bread, milk, cereal, fruit, sweets or soda into acids. When the bacteria, acids, food debris and saliva combine, a substance called plaque or tartar sticks to the teeth.

    If plaque is not removed by brushing and flossing your teeth properly it will accumulate and build up on the outer layer of the tooth. It is the acids in the plaque that dissolve and destroy the tooth’s enamel surface and as a result visible holes or cavities in the teeth are formed.

    Diagnosing Tooth Decay

    Your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your mouth, teeth and gums as well as review your dental history and perform x-rays. Treatment of dental caries generally depends on the severity of the tooth decay. Mild cases of tooth decay involve fluoride treatments and cavities will be filled with fillings.

    More severe episodes of tooth decay may require include deep cleaning methods such as scaling and root planning, surgery or bone and tissue grafts. Practice good dental hygiene habits such as proper brushing and flossing, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and visiting your dentist regularly.

    More Information on Tooth Decay

    Tips for prevention of tooth decay

    There are a number of ways to prevent tooth decay and these include:

    • Brush your teeth properly twice a day for at least two minutes – if possible brush your teeth after each meal but always after waking in the morning and before bedtime
    • Floss your teeth daily before brushing to remove plaque from those hard-to-reach places in your mouth
    • Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride to help fight gum disease and prevents plaque build up
    • Eat a healthy, well balanced meats packed with vegetables and fruit
    • Limit your intake of sweets and sugary foods
    • Visit your dentist every six months for routine checkups
    • Use an electric toothbrush for more thorough cleaning as they are more effective than manual toothbrushes and are able to remove plaque below the gum line
    • Stop smoking as it destroys gum tissue, causes tartar formation and bone loss
    • Avoid long term use of certain drugs such as antidepressants, antihistamines or muscle relaxants as they dry out the mouth and can cause tooth decay and gum disease
    • Replace toothbrushes every three months because new toothbrushes remove plaque more easily than used ones