Dental caries, or dental decay, is a common disease, which causes cavities and discoloration of both permanent and deciduous or “baby” teeth.
As the disease progresses in a tooth it becomes weaker and its nerve may be damaged.
Dental decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth make acid which then dissolves the tooth. Bacteria only produce this acid when they are exposed to sugar. If you have a sensible diet, a good flow of saliva, a cleaning routine and your teeth get an appropriate fluoride exposure, you are less likely to get decay.
You can prevent decay by:
Saliva is the best natural defence against decay. The acid from bacteria can be neutralised by saliva. A reduced flow of saliva (*dry mouth) can increase your risk of decay.
Causes might include
In the mouth, there is a constant demineralisation (strengthening minerals like calcium and fluoride being dissolved by acids) and remineralisation (strengthening minerals being re-deposited on the teeth from saliva). If your demineralisation is happening at a greater rate than remineralisation, you get loss of tooth substance.
If your mouth is acidic a good deal of the day from, say, excessive and constant intake of acidic soft drinks or constant sugar intake, then the demineralisation wins and you have problems.
If you are careful with the diet, then your saliva is more neutral and you will get good remineralisation to constantly repair the teeth.
Early dental caries is reversible. Minerals can be deposited back onto the tooth surface if you can modify your diet and oral hygiene. Your dentist can treat early areas of caries with topical fluoride, and if you are careful with your diet and cleaning no other treatment may be required.
A more advanced area of dental caries will require a "filling" or restoration. Your dentist will remove the damaged and infected soft tooth structure and repair the tooth. It is important to have this done as early as possible to preserve the strength of the tooth and prevent bacteria damaging the tooth pulp.
It is very important to listen to your dentist’s advice on how to eliminate the cause of your caries. Don’t think that just fixing a cavity will stop the disease from occurring in other areas of the mouth.
Other ways you may help prevent dental caries with your diet are:
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