All About Tooth Decay

tooth decay

It's no secret that if you neglect your oral hygiene, you're likely to end up with a cavity or two-- or worse. Even young children can typically recite why teeth brushing is important. Yet, significantly fewer people are aware of other causes of tooth decay. And when it comes to prevention strategies and treatment options, not everyone is up-to-date with the latest information.

Causes of Tooth Decay

  • Inadequate oral hygiene. Neglecting your daily brushing and flossing is a surefire way to put yourself at risk for tooth decay. To help prevent decay, it's important to brush at least twice a day and floss daily. Rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash is also good for prevention.
  • Lack of saliva. Saliva serves an important function in our mouths. It helps to wash away food and harmful sugars that can lead to tooth decay. Unfortunately, many people suffer from dry mouth, which results from inefficient saliva production. Dry mouth can be caused by certain health conditions, side effects from medications, or even by breathing through the mouth.
  • High sugar and/or high carbohydrate diet. Plaque, which is a sticky, clear substance, is always forming on our teeth and gums. The bacteria in plaque feeds on sugars from the foods that we eat. As the bacteria feeds on the sugars, enamel-destroying acid is produced, ultimately resulting in tooth decay. Thus, eating a diet that's high in sugar or other carbohydrates provides plenty of food for the harmful bacteria in your mouth.
  • Lack of fluoride. Fluoride helps to protect the teeth from decay. It's often added to public water supplies to help make teeth more resistant to the acids that destroy enamel. Many toothpastes and mouthwashes also contain fluoride. Lack of exposure to fluoride makes the teeth much more susceptible to decay.
  • Diabetes. As previously noted, the bacteria in plaque feed on sugars from the food and drinks we consume. Acid is produced, and tooth enamel is subsequently destroyed. Thus, if you suffer from Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, managing your blood sugar level is essential to your oral health. The higher your blood sugar level, the more sugar and starches the bacteria have to feed on-- and the more enamel-destroying acid is produced.
  • Tobacco products. In addition to having adverse effects on your overall health, tobacco products are damaging to your oral health as well. Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products increase your risk of a host of oral health problems, ranging from tooth decay and gum disease to oral cancers and tooth loss.

Treatment Options

  • Fluoride treatments. If your tooth decay hasn't yet progressed to a cavity, it might be possible to treat it by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste or receiving a fluoride treatment at the dentist's office. That's one reason why regular dental check-ups are so important; decay can be caught and treated before it progresses.
  • Filling. If your tooth decay has progressed to a cavity, a common treatment option is a filling. First, the dentist removes the decay from the tooth. Then, the tooth is filled with a material to restore its shape.
  • Root canal. If the pulp of the tooth has become infected, a filling is no longer an appropriate treatment option. In these cases, a root canal is often the go-to treatment choice. A root canal removes the infected pulp from the affected tooth.
  • Crown. If tooth decay is severe and the tooth has been significantly damaged as a result, a crown is often a good treatment option. A crown is an artificial replacement for part of a damaged tooth.
  • Removal. Sometimes, the decay is so severe that extraction of the tooth is the best treatment option. This is often the case when the root of the tooth is damaged. The extracted tooth can then be replaced with a dental bridge or an implant.

In addition to practicing good oral hygiene at home, the best way to prevent tooth decay is to receive professional dental cleanings and check-ups twice a year. Contact us for more information.