Dental Care Measures To Prevent Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is represented by dental caries (commonly called cavities), and marks the erosion of the tooth. In the disease’s earliest stage, the damage it causes can be corrected. However, if decay is allowed to continue unchecked, it will eventually cause severe, irreparable damage. At that point, the tooth must be filled.
Below, we’ll describe in detail how decay affects a tooth’s structure. We’ll explain the disease process, so you’ll be aware of the point at which the damage becomes irreversible. We’ll also describe the methods used to prevent decay from developing on your teeth in the first place.
How Decay Affects A Tooth
It’s important to be familiar with the anatomy of a tooth. There are several layers, beginning with the top layer of enamel. This is a hard substance that is able to endure the daily stress of grinding and crushing when we chew food (called mastication).
Beneath the enamel is a substance called dentin. Dentin is softer than enamel, and thus more susceptible to damage. Underneath the dentin is the tooth’s pulp chamber. This is the space in which the nerves are found. There are also tiny blood vessels in the chamber that are intermingled with the nerves. Extending away from the pulp chamber toward the gumline are the root canals.
Decay is caused by an acidic material that forms when bacteria in the mouth combine with sugars and carbohydrates in the foods we consume. The acid sticks to the tooth’s enamel surface, and begins a process known as demineralization. At this point, the material is still limited to the surface of the tooth. The damage is not yet permanent.
With time, the enamel will eventually begin to deteriorate, allowing its surface to be penetrated by the acidic material. Once the surface is broken, the damage to the tooth becomes permanent, though still limited to a small area. If a dentist treats it quickly, the cavity’s effect on the tooth will be small.
On the other hand, if decay is allowed to continue, it will slowly eat away at the enamel, eventually accessing the layer of dentin. Not only does this compromise the dentin, but it also provides the decay a platform to attack the enamel from inside the tooth. If the decay continues without being addressed, it will access the pulp chamber and cause an infection. A root canal is usually necessary to preserve the tooth.
The Role Of Fluoride
Washing your teeth with a fluoride rinse is one of the best ways to protect them from decay. This is the reason fluoride has been added to water supplies used by large populaces. Research shows that teeth undergo remineralization when they are exposed to it, making them more resilient against decay.
Brushing And Flossing
Brushing and flossing are considered the “front lines” in the ongoing battle against dental caries. The former cleans the surfaces of the teeth, and removes food debris that may be stuck between them. The latter removes debris that has become wedged in places that are not easily reached by the bristles of a toothbrush. With the food particles removed, there is less likelihood that bacteria will interact with the sugars and carbohydrates in our food, and bond to our teeth.
Most dentists recommend brushing at least twice each day as well as after meals and snacks. Flossing once per day is considered sufficient.
Bonding To Prevent Cavities
Bonding is done with a plastic sealant. The sealant is placed into the area of the teeth used for chewing with the goal of preventing cavities. Specifically, it prevents bacteria from gathering in the grooves of the teeth, where a toothbrush’s bristles may be unable to reach. The plastic resin can be expected to last for at least three years, but may last many years longer.
Tooth decay is a common problem for millions of people, but can be easily resolved with basic dental care. Brushing and flossing regularly (and properly), washing your teeth with a fluoride rinse, and in some cases, applying a sealant, can prevent decay from causing extensive damage.