What is Tooth Decay?

When your teeth start to break down, you are experiencing tooth decay.  Dentists may refer to the changes in your teeth as dental caries or cavities, but your teeth are not as strong as they used to be.  Certain diets high in acid or sugar can cause teeth to break down and when the teeth are exposed to bacteria, the teeth can start deteriorate.  Regardless of the cause, your teeth may even start to change color from white to yellow or even black.  Tooth decay not only damages the surface, but can also bring tooth aches, gum infections and even tooth loss.

The tooth has layers of harder tissue surrounding the soft tissue and nerves inside. The hard layers are the enamel, dentin and cementum and while they are hard, they can still experience damage.  Without a dentist to catch and treat the beginning stages of enamel breakdown, the tooth decay can continue to eat through the layers and increasing the damage to the tooth.

Your mouth is home to a variety of bacteria and the bacteria feeds off the sugars in your food.  The bacteria turns the sugars into acids and the acids breakdown the minerals in the enamel.  If your body is able to replace the lost minerals with new ones from your diet, your teeth will remain healthy.  In some cases, certain health conditions like diabetes or medications like antihistamines can allow for the bacteria to thrive more as compared to people without the diseases or medications.  Your mouth uses your saliva to remove bacteria, so anything that causes less saliva to be produced will contribute to tooth decay. Other risk factors for tooth decay include diets high in sugar, like juice and starches, and poor at home dental hygiene routines.  As you age and your gums recede, the exposure of the roots of your teeth can allow for tooth decay as well and your family dental history will help determine your likelihood of tooth decay.

The best way to avoid tooth decay is to floss and brush your teeth twice a day while maintaining twice yearly cleanings at the dentist office.  The dentist can also screen your teeth for any damage at these appointments.  As a diet low in sugar can prove to be beneficial to your health for many reasons, the bacteria in your mouth can’t thrive without a reliable food source.  Dentists also recommend small amounts of fluoride either from your drinking water, salt, toothpaste or from treatments during a dental appointment.  A diet rich in vitamin D and calcium helps keep your bones strong as well as your teeth.  The calcium and fluoride help replace the minerals lost to bacterial acid in your tooth’s enamel.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly all adults have had tooth decay or dental caries at some point in their life with about 3.6 million adults experiencing tooth decay in their permanent teeth.  While this problem occurs all over the world, not all the people with tooth decay need to lose their teeth.  Taking time to care for your teeth can help prevent toothaches and tooth loss.

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