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.”