All About Tooth Decay What Causes Tooth Decay? Bacteria are the cause of tooth decay (teeth rotting). Our mouths are full of bacteria, which settle on our teeth in plaque, a goo of proteins, saliva and food debris. Bacteria are particularly fond of foods containing sugars and carbohydrates. A special favorite of bacteria are foods, which tend to stick to teeth like peanut butter, caramel, and honey. These foods provide bacteria with energy to grow, reproduce, and create enamel-eating acid. The bacteria produce acid from food particles left on our teeth. It is this acid which eats into the tooth enamel creating cavities. Although, the teeth have a moderate ability to repair tooth enamel by re-mineralizing the affected enamel with minerals from saliva. Unfortunately, when the rate of destruction by acid exceeds this rate of repair, cavities form. Normally, the acid eating into tooth enamel is not painful. Left untreated, however, acid eats a hole through the enamel into the underlying dentine and pulp layers of the tooth. This does cause pain and left untreated the cavity will eventually destroy the nerve of the tooth. Sometimes, if the destruction is severe, the tooth is not fixable and has to be pulled. These pictures show how small cavities get bigger until Hole in a tooth that had to be they reach the nerves of the teeth. pulled Early cavity in the groove of a tooth where food may stick What Can You Do To Reduce Your Chances of Getting Cavities? It becomes simple and easy to significantly reduce your risk of getting cavities by good oral hygiene. Brushing removes bacteria as well as the food debris bacteria feed on. But how long to brush? When brushing it is crucial to brush all tooth surfaces which takes at least 2-3 minutes. Unfortunately, most people only brush for less than 45 seconds and miss a large percentage of their tooth surfaces. Flossing is crucial to preventing cavities when brushing has limited efficiency. Flossing reaches the nearly 35 percent of your mouth that your toothbrush cannot reach. In these areas, bacteria live happily producing acid. To Prevent Cavities, Watch What You Eat Tooth decay is the most prevalent human disorder. When you eat meals or snacks containing large amounts sugars, carbohydrates, or "sticky" foods which tend to get stuck to teeth, make sure to follow the meal with water to help wash off food particles remaining on teeth. It is best if you brush your teeth immediately after the meal. The timing of your snacks is crucial to preventing cavities. The acid produced by bacteria is neutralized by saliva and cleared from the mouth. After the acid is cleared minerals in saliva crystallize on the enamel to begin to repair areas damaged by the acid. Decay Can Exist Under Old Fillings Sometimes, all the brushing and flossing you do cannot prevent teeth decay from occurring under old fillings. When this occurs, symptoms from cold sensitivity to deep aching pain may arise. To prevent this, exams can check for decay around fillings and the early replacement may prevent larger problems from occurring. These old amalgams have been leaking with bacteria getting under them. Thanks to new technologies, the decay can be removed, the teeth sealed and re-strengthened with white colored restorations. Use Fluoride to Prevent Cavities Fluoride is a wonder of modern dentistry. Fluoride incorporates itself into tooth enamel strengthening the enamel and making it more resistant to acid attacks. Most adults and children receive adequate amounts of fluoride in their toothpastes. Why should visit Your Dentist on a Regular Basis? Dental problems often remain silent creating pain only after significant damage has occurred. Dentists can identify many of these potentially devastating problems before they cause major damage. In addition, dentists can detect places in your mouth that you miss when brushing. These areas are prime targets for cavity formation. In areas where cavities are just beginning to form, dentists can use high concentration fluoride treatments to prevent the need for the dental drills and fillings. Things to remember: “As sooner cavities are detected, easier for treatment and less pain for you” and “Cavities are highly preventable”! Want additional information or have questions about this topic? Ask us!