What Is Tooth Decay? How Can You Prevent It?
Tooth decay occurs when there is a breakdown in the structure of enamel and dentin, which makes up most of the tooth. This happens when the acids produced by bacteria attack the minerals that make up these structures.
Bacteria that live in your mouth (streptococcus mutans and lactobacillus) produce acids when you eat or drink foods containing carbohydrates like sugar, fruit juice, and milk. The bacteria attach to your teeth and secrete acid onto the surface of the tooth. Your saliva helps wash away these acids; however, if you consume acidic food and drinks too often, it can cause permanent damage to your teeth.
This damage can happen in as little as two tooth-decay, causing bacteria to grow on your teeth and as long as ten days. In this time, they create an acid that dissolves the enamel of a tooth. This allows the bacteria to burrow into the dentin underneath, breaking down tissue until reaching blood vessels or nerves. This causes pain and swelling in the gums, which are your body’s way of warning you that you have a problem. If left untreated, it can cause infection, tooth loss or other issues.
– Sensitivity to hot or cold food/drink
– Toothache/tooth sensitivity
– Swelling of the gums
– Bad breath
– Dark spots on the teeth
– Loose/chipped teeth
– Sores or bleeding in the mouth from sharp edges of broken teeth or infection.
If you have any of these symptoms, it is essential to seek treatment from a dentist as soon as possible.
Tooth decay is a common problem, and in most cases, there is no pain associated with the condition in its early stages. However, if you already have tooth decay, it can be very painful when exposed to hot or cold food and drink.
Since symptoms do not always accompany tooth decay, early diagnosis is essential for retaining your teeth. However, it is possible to reverse tooth decay with early diagnosis and appropriate dental care, which can be done by regular brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, eating healthy foods that are low in sugar or acid, quitting smoking if applicable, drinking less soda/fruit juice/milk/energy drinks/coffee, seeing your dentist for regular checkups, and by following the dentist’s recommendations.
Once tooth decay reaches later stages, it is more difficult to reverse. Depending on how far the decay has gone, you will need one or more dental treatments. If tooth decay reaches the pulp of a tooth (the innermost layer), which includes the blood vessels and nerves, you may require a root canal. If decay is between your teeth and gums, you will likely need an endodontic treatment (a root canal) or a filling. If tooth decay reaches the enamel, you will likely need a filling or crown.
The number one reason for tooth decay is by far sugar. Limit the amount of sugary foods and drinks that you consume to reduce your risk. The second leading cause is the lack of brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Brushing your teeth helps remove the plaque that causes tooth decay. Also, brushing your teeth after consuming acidic foods and drinks can help protect your enamel from being weakened. Flossing daily helps remove any food particles that brushing might have missed and reduces the amount of bacteria in your mouth.
Water is a great way to rinse the acid off of the teeth during meals. It is beneficial for your teeth to consume healthy foods that are low in sugar or acid. Quit smoking as this will increase your risk of tooth decay. Limit the amount of soda, fruit juice, milk/energy drinks/coffee you drink as these beverages contain a high quantity of sugar and acids, leading to tooth decay. Reduce stress as stress causes increased amounts of acid that can damage your teeth. See your dentist for regular check-ups as they will help you understand the health of your mouth and catch tooth decay before it gets worse.