Tooth decay is by no means a new problem. Recent archeological findings that we have already reported on found ancient teeth that had clear signs of cavitation from bacteria. Back then, people thought teeth got ruined by tiny parasites, depicted to be something like gnats. We now know this to be untrue, of course. By tooth decay, we mean the thinning down and eventual cavitation of the tooth enamel, sometimes accompanied with the breaking of the tooth. The reason this happens is because the minerals in the teeth become dissolved, usually as a result of coming into contact with the acidic secretions of bacteria that live in the mouth, but there are several factors that lead to tooth decay.
One of the most common health problems in the world today, over 95% of adults all over the world are affected by it. Because of this, it is also one of the most thoroughly researched and discussed health issues, and most industrialized countries have public health initiatives that try and rectify this situation. Teeth are more susceptible to tooth decay at different times, so it is no surprise that later in childhood, for example is one of the most common times to get a filling, as the teeth are growing in still, and are more vulnerable. A British study also noted that parents are ashamed of the state of their kids’ teeth, and are even less likely to go and see a dentist. Even the most rigorous at home oral hygiene routine is sadly no guarantee against tooth decay, as genetics, the composition of your saliva and a host of other factors play into whether or not you will get cavities.
It is sometimes difficult to determine the exact cause of tooth decay, but there are four major factors to look out for.
Our mouth is positively filled with bacteria. Some of them break down carbohydrates, and they produce a sticky substance that they like to live in, along with acids. This sticky substance is plaque, and it is the home of acid producing bacteria, and thus one of the main enemies of your tooth enamel.
2) Carbohydrates and acids
The bacteria that live in your mouth frequently eat carbs; this is why sugary foods are bad for your teeth. Acidic foods and vinegary foods are also bad for your teeth because these substances dissolve minerals without the aid of bacteria.
3) Food detritus
Most substances break down into sugars. The more food remains you have hidden between your teeth, the more carbohydrates are going to be present as the food decomposes.
Why is snacking bad for your teeth? Because you can’t brush after every single bite taken, and because by constantly introducing small amounts of food into the mouth, your mouth does not have a chance to regulate itself and set its pH back to normal.
Usually teeth that are difficult to reach are the first to start decaying, as these are the places where food detritus is most likely to get stuck. The grooves of the molars are a favorite habitat of bacteria, as is the gaps between teeth, especially with overlapping teeth, but right above the gum line and the surfaces that come directly into contact with food when biting are also susceptible areas. At first cavities appear as so-called white spot lesions, demineralized zones in the teeth that appear as white patches on the tooth enamel. These spots that start to turn brown, and eventually black, and the tooth around it will start to disintegrate until the tooth eventually collapses in on itself or pieces of it start breaking off. If you do not know what you are dealing with, you may be in trouble, as it does not always hurt. If your teeth are periodically sensitive, particularly when eating sweets, you definitely have a cavity. Eating sugar raises the osmotic pressure in your spit, and this will cause your teeth to throb if there is a cavity on them, and this can become quite painful. If you always end up picking food out from the same place, this is also a problem, as the space where the food is getting stuck will only be able to fight off the bacteria for so long. If nothing is done about the fact that food is getting stuck in a given area, the area will decay over time.
If left untreated, the tooth will become infected, and this is almost always very painful, and the cavity can reach down all the way to the roots of the teeth. Teeth can become sensitive to cold (sign of an infection in the dentine), or to warm (sign that the tooth is dead). Cavities need to be filled as quickly as possible. What kind of treatment you need to get and how long it will take is dependent on the rate of decay. If the cavity is deep enough, a root canal treatment will be necessary. Sometimes, fillings need to be changed, as the tooth material around it can start to decay over time. As most cavities can be prevented before they even form, it is advisable to keep your half year checkups.
The most important thing is rigorous daily oral hygiene, starting with brushing at least twice a day, or after every meal, with flossing at least once, and using mouthwash. If you see a lot of surfaces where food can get caught, you should go to your dentist and see if anything can be done to rectify the situation.
The best antidote against acid producing bacteria is fluoride. If you bring enough fluoride into your system, your teeth will be able to heal themselves and fight off bacteria. It is best to eat salt with added fluoride, and to use fluoride based toothpastes. Nutrition is also extremely important, try and avoid sticky, sugary foods. If you are on a diet, make sure you be careful, as eating a lot of acidic fruits and vegetables and teas, your enamel may be damaged.
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