Tooth decay (also known as dental caries) is a disease process in which bacteria cause the loss of tooth structure. Tooth decay begins with bacteria accumulating on your teeth. The next step is actually triggered by eating sugar. When sugar is present, the bacteria consume the sugar and release acid as a waste product. This acid is strong enough to break down tooth structure, causing tooth decay. Over time, tooth decay gradually leads to a hole (or cavity) in the tooth.
What prevents tooth decay?
- Brushing: Brushing twice per day, especially after your first and last meals, is essential to remove bacteria and food debris from your teeth.
- Flossing: Unfortunately, toothbrush bristles cannot enter between teeth. Thus, flossing is important to remove the bacteria that are wedged between teeth. In fact, a large percentage of tooth decay starts between teeth due to insufficient flossing.
- Regular dental cleanings: Regular brushing and flossing cannot remove all plaque and bacteria, so regular dental cleanings and check ups are extremely significant to prevent and detect tooth decay.
- Reduce sugar intake: Remember, a cavity is caused by bacteria releasing acid when eating sugar. Thus, reducing sugar intake (especially sticky sugary substances) will help reduce tooth decay.
- Fluoride: Fluoride actually strengthens teeth and makes them more resistant to the acid released by bacteria. So, always use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- Sealants: Sealants are placed on the top of teeth in young patients to create a thin coating that helps seal the teeth from bacteria.
How do you treat tooth decay?
The treatment options depend on the size and location of the decay. If the tooth decay is not large, a tooth filling may be used. (Learn more about white fillings and silver fillings.) If the tooth decay is large and affects most of the tooth, a dental crown (also referred to as a cap) is often used. A dental crown covers the whole visible portion of the tooth above the gum line. If the tooth decay is very deep, the tooth’s nerve may be infected. In this situation, a root canal procedure may be needed to clean and disinfect the inside of the tooth.
About our office’s goal to prevent tooth decay:
After attending and teaching at Tufts Dental School, my wife Joanne and I moved to Palm Beach County, where I have practiced ever since. From the day my office opened, my goal has been to help my patients prevent tooth decay. Thus, we always emphasize the importance of routine dental cleanings, as well as proper brushing and flossing. In addition, our hygienists demonstrate how to correctly brush and floss at the end of each cleaning appointment. Unfortunately, tooth decay can enlarge and worsen quickly. So, regular dental exams are important to identify cavities when they are still small. If you are due for a check-up or you have any questions, we are more than happy to see you for a complimentary exam.