Eating your favorite food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. However, an aching tooth can quickly ruin your favorite ice cream or go-to chocolate bar. Toothache is usually a sign of tooth decay, an oral disease that affects about 44% of the world’s population. Now, how to prevent tooth decay?
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay, also known as cavities or dental caries, are areas on the surface of the teeth that have been permanently damaged. The damage is directly inflicted on your teeth’s enamel, which is the hard outer part of your teeth.
Dental caries may also occur on the dentin (second layer of the tooth) or on the cementum (outer covering of the root part of the tooth).
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is caused by a sticky film of bacteria that coats the teeth called “plaque.” When you eat, the bacteria in plaque turn the sugar from the food you eat into acids. These acids attack the enamel of the tooth, causing damage over time. This is what causes tooth decay or cavities.
During the initial stages of tooth decay, the acids from plaque cause small holes in the enamel. The bacteria then enter the deeper layers of the tooth, which can eventually cause pain and infection. In the final stages of tooth decay, teeth may look yellow-brown or even black.
Who is at Risk of Tooth Decay?
Anyone can be at risk of developing tooth decay. However, children and teenagers are more susceptible. Data shows that 60%-90% of schoolchildren and almost 100% of adults have tooth decay. However, some factors can increase your risk of developing cavities namely:
Location of affected teeth: Teeth that are located in the back of the mouth like the molars are more prone to tooth decay because they’re harder to reach with a toothbrush.
Not brushing your teeth enough: If you don’t clean your teeth every time you eat, this gives the plaque a chance to accumulate on the surface of your teeth.
Age: Children are most at risk of tooth decay, however, older adults are also prone to getting cavities because the gums tend to recede with age.
Certain types of food: Some types of food cling to the teeth much longer and are harder to brush away. Examples of food that are most likely to contribute to plaque build-up are milk, ice cream, soda, and etc.
Having a dry mouth: Saliva is able to wash away some remnants of food in your mouth that may cause tooth decay. Having a dry mouth makes it hard for saliva to naturally prevent plaque build-up. Factors like chemotherapy or medication might cause a dry mouth.
Feeding infants before bedtime: Remnants of milk, juice, and other liquids cause tooth decay in babies, this is often referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.”
Frequent eating or drinking: If you’re fond of eating or drinking a lot, then there’s a greater chance of bacteria turning the food into acids that can cause cavities.
Eating disorders: Eating disorders that involve “purging” or forced vomiting can cause tooth decay because stomach acid that goes into the mouth can damage the teeth’s enamel.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay
Sometimes you might not feel anything when tooth decay is still in its early stages, meaning, a cavity hasn’t formed in one of your teeth yet. However, as the damage progresses you might start to feel the following symptoms:
- Toothache that appears out of nowhere, or doesn’t have a direct cause
- Pain in your teeth whenever you eat something sweet or drink something hot or cold
- Sensitive teeth
- Holes (cavities) forming on your teeth
- The appearance of white, brown, or black stains on your teeth
- Bad breath
If you start to feel any pain or sensitivity in your teeth, then it’s best to see your dentist as soon as possible. Treating tooth decay during its early stages is the best way to stop any further damage from happening to your teeth.
Complications of Tooth Decay
A cavity may not look like much but leaving tooth decay untreated can have negative consequences on your health. Pain and chewing problems are just some of the things you’ll have to deal with if you don’t get your cavities checked out by a dentist.
If you leave a cavity untreated, you may develop the following diseases:
Gingivitis or Periodontitis
Gingivitis is a gum disease that causes swelling and inflammation in the gingiva, which is the part of the gums that surrounds the base of the tooth. Mild effects of gingivitis is bleeding gums when brushing, while a more serious effect is tooth loss.
Gingivitis can also cause periodontitis, which is a more severe and widespread inflammation that affects the gums and even the bones in the jaw.
Sometimes, severe cases of tooth decay can lead to the development of dental abscesses, which are growths where pus is collected and which may be located in the gums, in the tooth, or even in the bone that holds teeth in place. Dental abscesses are often painful and require immediate treatment.
Prevention of Tooth Decay
Instead of preparing for the worst effects of tooth decay like infection or a ruined smile, it’s best to adopt habits that will benefit your tooth and gum health. Some ways you can take care of your teeth and prevent tooth decay are the following:
- Brush and floss your teeth after every meal or at least twice a day.
- Schedule an appointment with your dentist every 6 months. Dentists will be able to provide services like teeth cleaning that will further prevent tooth decay.
- Try to avoid snacking or drinking too much.
- Make sure to really clean your teeth.
Whenever you’re brushing your teeth, try not to zone out and remember to do the following:
- Brush every tooth’s surface in a circular motion.
- Brush along the gumline, and where your teeth meet your gums.
- Brush your tongue.
- Pay special attention to the biting surfaces of the teeth.
- Don’t forget to brush the inner surfaces of your teeth as well
How to prevent tooth decay effectively? Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that cause damage to the teeth’s enamel, usually found in plaque. The best way to avoid tooth decay is to keep your mouth clean and adopt good dental hygiene practices. It also helps to see your dentist regularly.
Learn more about Oral Health here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.