A Closer Look At Tooth Decay
Tooth decay affects millions of people. If it is caught early, it can be resolved before the structure of the tooth suffers substantial deterioration. If decay is left unchecked, it will progress until it reaches the pulp, and causes the loss of the tooth.
While most people are familiar with this process, few understand exactly how it occurs or progresses. We’ll discuss this in detail below. This article will explain how dental decay begins, and the factors that allow it to penetrate deeper into the structure of the tooth. We’ll also provide several tips for keeping decay at bay, and preventing the formation of cavities.
Factors The Contribute To Decay
The foods we eat, beverages we drink, and our ongoing dental hygiene determine whether decay forms on our teeth. These factors also influence how quickly decay penetrates the enamel, dentin, and pulp chamber of a tooth. Enamel is mostly composed of mineral content, and makes up the outer surface; dentin is a layer of calcified tissue that lies beneath the enamel; and the pulp chamber is the portion of the tooth that contains the nerves.
Whenever we consume anything that contains sugar or starch, bacteria in our mouths form acid. This acid sticks to the surface of our teeth, and attacks the enamel through a process called demineralization. If bacteria colonize the surface, dental plaque will form. The formation of plaque allows the acid to penetrate more deeply into the structure of the tooth.
How Decay Affects Teeth
The first indication of decay is a small patch of white material that appears on the enamel. At this point, demineralization has begun, but is relatively easy to resolve. The patient can apply fluorides to reverse the process, or rely on her dentist to do so. If the white patches are ignored, the tooth’s enamel will continue to break down. Decay will eventually penetrate the enamel, at which point demineralization becomes irreversible. A dentist must clear the decay, and apply a filling to prevent further deterioration.
With time, decay may reach the layer of dentin. This will allow it to further compromise the enamel by spreading along its underside. Meanwhile, it will continue to penetrate more deeply into the tooth’s structure until it reaches the pulp chamber. Infection will occur, causing an abscess to form in the tissue.
Where Tooth Decay Occurs
Most people think brushing their teeth is sufficient for preventing the onset of decay. In reality, it is not. While brushing can address acids that form on the front and back surfaces, it will not address acids that form between the teeth. The bristles cannot adequately reach these areas. This is the reason dentists strongly suggest flossing each day.
Another area that is susceptible to an accumulation of bacteria is the pit of a tooth. Found on the biting surface, pits cannot be reached by brushing or flossing. Periodic dental cleanings are required to remove bacteria and acids from them.
Good Oral Hygiene Prevents Tooth Decay
Thus far, we’ve discussed the importance of brushing and flossing. Both play important roles in removing acids and plaque, and thus preventing decay from penetrating the enamel of your teeth. We also touched upon the role of fluoride in helping to reverse the process of demineralization. There are additional steps you can take to protect your teeth, and prevent the formation of cavities.
For example, saliva contains compounds that help repair teeth. Since chewing gum increases the volume of saliva in your mouth, doing so helps prevent decay from forming.
Limiting foods and beverages that contain a high level of sugar and starch will also contribute to good oral health. The fewer of these items you consume, the less susceptible your teeth will be to acids and plaque.
Preventing the onset and spread of tooth decay is a matter of following a few simple steps. The key is to do so consistently, and schedule periodic dental visits for professional cleanings.