Tooth decay 101
Tooth decay refers to the softening and destruction of the enamel, which is the hard-outer layer of the tooth. It eventually leads to cavities, or holes in the tooth. Almost everyone will develop tooth decay at some point in their lives. Here’s everything you need to know about this common dental health issue.
What causes tooth decay?
A sticky film called plaque is constantly forming on the teeth and gums. This film is made of bacteria that feed on the sugars, starches and carbohydrates left on your teeth after you eat, creating acids that corrode the enamel.
There are some factors that make a person more susceptible to tooth decay, including the following:
- Poor oral hygiene. Not brushing and flossing can allow the plaque to build up and attack the tooth’s enamel.
- Dry mouth. Your saliva helps to wash away the plaque on your teeth. If you don’t have enough, it creates a perfect environment for plaque and bacteria to build up even more.
- Acid reflux. This condition causes the acid from your stomach to come in contact with your teeth, which contributes to decay. Conditions that cause frequent vomiting, such as bulimia, can also cause tooth decay.
How is tooth decay treated?
Tooth decay treatment depends on how advanced it is. Early tooth decay is when the enamel is softened but not yet damaged. This can be repaired with remineralization treatments to strengthen the weak spot.
If the tooth decay has caused a cavity in the enamel, a filling or a crown can be installed to stop the damage from spreading. Decay that spread to the pulp at the centre of the tooth is repaired with root canal therapy. In extreme cases, the tooth may need to be extracted.
Tooth decay is generally preventable when you regularly follow these three steps:
- Brush. Twice a day, brush your teeth using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste. To avoid scratching the enamel, it’s best to wait 20 minutes after eating to brush.
- Floss. Once a day, clean between your teeth using dental floss. Glide the floss along both sides of each tooth, being sure to go as far under your gums as possible without causing pain.
- See your dentist. At least twice a year, visit your dentist for a teeth cleaning and dental checkup.