Tooth decay occurs when your teeth’s enamel is damaged as a result starches and sugars that are left on the surface of the teeth. Bacteria that exist in the mouth digest the starches and sugars and turn them into acids. The resulting acid combines with bacteria, saliva and other food particles to form a sticky substance that is known as plaque.
Plaque sticks to the teeth, and the acids that the substance contains progressively erode the teeth’s enamel. Over time, continued tooth decay leads to the formation of holes called cavities on the teeth. Learn more about the causes and symptoms of tooth decay and the various forms of treatment that can be used to address the problem.
Causes of Tooth Decay
A number of things happen in the process of tooth decay, beginning with the demineralization or eroding of the tooth’s enamel. In many cases, tooth decay starts when food that contains carbohydrates is trapped in the areas between teeth and is not fully removed through processes like flossing and brushing. More details about the causes of tooth decay are provided below.
- Eating and Drinking Starchy or Sugary Foods
Eating and drinking starchy or sugary foods is where it all starts. When you drink or eat, any carbohydrate compound that the food contains is left in your mouth and on the teeth in particular until you remove it through brushing. Even when you brush, you may not completely remove all food debris as well as carbohydrates that stick between teeth. When bacteria act on the carbohydrates and other food particles, they produce acid, which has a corroding effect on the tooth’s enamel. This causes tooth decay.
Foods that have a high acid content also cause erosion of the tooth enamel, leading to tooth decay. Examples of such foods include sports drinks, soft drinks, fruit juices, energy drinks, and cordials.
- Poor Oral Hygiene
Another factor that causes tooth decay is poor oral hygiene. This point is also closely related to eating in that when you eat and fail to brush, you provide an opportunity for particles to stick on your teeth and gums. The food is then broken down to produce acids that corrode your teeth’s enamel.
Failure to practice proper oral hygiene also promotes the proliferation of bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria are associated with the formation of acid and plaque buildup on the teeth. When plaque builds up on teeth, more bacteria are able to thrive, leading to the creation of an environment that promotes tooth decay. Further, when plaque is not removed through flossing and brushing, it hardens to form tartar, which further creates an environment that is conducive for tooth decay.
It is therefore important to practice good dental hygiene practices like brushing twice each day and flossing at least once per day. More importantly, you should visit a dentist regularly for procedures such as dental examination to check for cavities and dental cleaning to remove any plaque or tartar that may have formed on your teeth and gums.
- Dry Mouth
Xerostomia or dry mouth is a condition that is characterized by having a much reduced amount of saliva. If you have a dry mouth, you lack the cleaning and lubrication properties that saliva provides. This means that plaque is likely to be deposited on your teeth more quickly. As a result, you are more susceptible to tooth decay if you have a dry mouth. Additionally, having xerostomia makes your gums and teeth prone to infection since saliva has some germ-fighting capabilities.
- Medical problems
Some medical problems can contribute to tooth decay by causing your stomach’s acid to flow back into the mouth. For example, bulimia can raise the risk of tooth decay in instances where teeth are constantly exposed to stomach acid as a result of frequent vomiting. Additionally, some forms of cancer medication that expose the neck and head to radiation can cause teeth to decay by altering the composition of saliva to stimulate an enhanced growth of bacteria.
Symptoms of Tooth Decay
If you have tooth decay, you will experience some symptoms as the process progresses. The symptoms include:
- Pain: You will experience a toothache that is either continuous or in the form of irregular sharp pain, for instance when chewing.
- Tooth sensitivity: If you experience a twinge when you take a hot or cold food or when brushing, it may be possible that your teeth are sensitive due to cavities. Tooth decay causes sensitivity as enamel is eroded, exposing the tooth’s dentin.
- The appearance of brown, grey or black spots on your teeth: Spots on the surfaces of teeth are a sign of tooth decay.
- Persistent bad breath
- Bad taste in the mouth
Treatment for Tooth Decay
The method of treating decayed teeth depends on the extent of the decay.
- For early stages of the condition: Your dentist will speak with you regarding the quantity of sugar that you consume and your eating pattern. The dentist may smear fluoride gel on the affected areas. Fluoride works by protecting the teeth’s enamel, thus ensuring that teeth are able to resist acids attacks that lead to tooth decay.
- Dental filling or use of crowns: This entails getting rid of the decay and filling the hole. The process is carried out under a local anesthetic.
- In cases where the decay has reached the pulp: This will require the root canal process to be carried out. The tooth’s pulp and nerves are removed, then the tooth’s inside is washed and sealed.
- Where the tooth is so badly decayed that it cannot be restored: This may require removal of the badly damaged tooth. The tooth is then replaced using a partial denture, implant or bridge.
Tooth decay results in damage to the tooth’s enamel due to the presence of acid, bacteria, and plaque. Eating foods that contain sugar and acid and not practicing good dental hygiene increase the risk of tooth decay. Symptoms of tooth decay include pain, tooth sensitivity, bad breath and the appearance of brown, grey or black spots on your teeth. If you have tooth decay, your dentist will recommend a treatment method depending on the extent of the decay.