Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, occurs when bacteria inside your mouth create acid that eats holes in the surface layer of your teeth, or the enamel. As time goes by, this decay can grow larger if it’s left untreated and can eventually reach the nerve endings in the center of your tooth. When this happens, the only recourse is to have the entire tooth removed.
Tooth decay is caused when plaque forms on your teeth. Many forms of bacteria live in your mouth, and when you consume excessively sugary food and drinks, these bacteria form plaque. The acid in this plaque slowly begins to remove the minerals in the enamel.
After the enamel is removed, this acid will begin the attack the second layer of your tooth, which is called dentin. This layer is softer than enamel and is more susceptible to acid attacks. Finally, the acid will reach the tooth’s pulp and cause serious damage. The pulp is the center of the tooth, and it houses the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels. This can trigger severe toothaches and even abscesses in some cases.
Additional causes of tooth decay include smoking and low amounts of saliva. Diabetics are also more likely to have tooth decay because of high blood sugar.
Preventing Tooth Decay
There are many ways to keep this nasty decay at bay. The first step is to regularly brush and floss your teeth. Try to brush at least twice a day and use a strong mouthwash afterward. You should also visit your dentist for a professional cleaning and dental exam once every six months. Your dentist may suggest giving you special fluoride treatments during your visit.
You should also cut down on snacking or sipping sugary snacks to keep plaque away. Instead, eat healthier foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and unsweetened tea. These promote saliva flow and can remove excess food particles that stick to your teeth.
Also, ask your dentist about preventive measures such as dental sealants, which are small plastic coatings that go onto your back teeth. If you’re especially susceptible to decay because of diabetes or chronic dry mouth, your dentist may prescribe special mouth rinses with powerful antibiotics to keep harmful bacteria away.
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