What is Tooth Decay?

When the bacteria in your mouth produces acid that starts breaking down your teeth, you are suffering from tooth decay.  It is one of the most common health concerns throughout the world for people of all ages.  If you have teeth, then you can suffer from tooth decay.  As it progresses, tooth decay can cause cavities or dental caries, infections, abscesses, and even tooth loss.  As a cavity, you may see grey, brown or black spots on the affected teeth.  As an infection, you will have more serious pain and may even have trouble eating.  Tooth decay can leave you more susceptible to other diseases so it is less painful, less expensive and easier to treat tooth decay before it progresses to more serious stages.

The bacteria in your mouth uses the sugar and starches from the foods you eat and the beverages you drink to produce an acid.  If your diet is composed of processed foods, juices and simple sugars, the bacteria will have an easier time reproducing.  The acid is responsible for breaking down the hard enamel that protects your teeth and can even break down the inner layers of the teeth, the dentin and the pulp.  As the acid strips minerals from the enamel, the bacteria has small holes and crevices to hide in and grow.  If the acid removes minerals from the enamel faster than they are replaced, then cavities and more serious stages of tooth decay result.

One of your mouth’s first defenses against bacteria causing tooth decay is your saliva.  It helps remove the food particles that feed the bacteria and the acid from the surface of your teeth.  If you have dry mouth or a decreased saliva production, you may be more at risk for tooth decay.  Conditions like diabetes, mellitus and Sjögren syndrome and medications like antihistamines and antidepressants can reduce your saliva production.  It is important to talk to the dentist about your health condition and any medications so the dentist can help you keep your teeth free from tooth decay in between dental cleanings.

In addition to maintaining regular visits to the dentist twice a year for exams and cleaning, there are steps you can take at home and between visits to prevent tooth decay all together and keep tooth decay from progressing to more serious stages.  It is important to start by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing and using an oral rinse.  The dentist may recommend using a toothpaste with fluoride to help replace the minerals in your enamel.  You may already have enough fluoride from your water, salt or dental office treatments.  The next important step to take is keep a diet low in sugar and processed foods.  If bacteria has minimal sources of sugar and starch to grow, then the bacteria will be less destructive to your teeth.

Depending on what stage of tooth decay you are experiencing, the dentist has different treatment options to restore your tooth and prevent more serious damage.  The dentist may need to apply a dental sealant, filling or crown, root canal therapy, or even extraction if the tooth is beyond repair.

More on Tooth Decay : Symptoms of Tooth Decay