What is Tooth Decay? How is it Caused?

Dental Caries or Cavities

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a common dental problem characterized by the gradual destruction of the tooth structure. It occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode the enamel, the outer protective layer of the teeth, and penetrate deeper into the tooth, causing decay.

Here’s how tooth decay develops:

  • Plaque Formation: Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. When you consume foods and beverages, particularly those containing sugars and carbohydrates, bacteria in plaque feed on these sugars and produce acids as a byproduct.
  • Acid Attack: The acids produced by bacteria in plaque can weaken and demineralize the enamel, making it more susceptible to decay. Over time, repeated acid attacks can lead to the formation of tiny holes or cavities in the enamel.
  • Progression of Decay: If left untreated, tooth decay can progress beyond the enamel and reach the dentin, the softer layer of tissue beneath the enamel. Decay can then continue to advance deeper into the tooth, potentially reaching the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels.

Several factors can contribute to the development of tooth decay:

  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Inadequate brushing and flossing can allow plaque to accumulate on the teeth, increasing the risk of decay.
  • Diet: Consumption of sugary or acidic foods and beverages, as well as frequent snacking, provides fuel for bacteria to produce acids that contribute to decay.
  • Dry Mouth: Saliva helps neutralize acids in the mouth and remineralize the enamel. Conditions that reduce saliva production, such as certain medications or medical conditions, can increase the risk of tooth decay.
  • Lack of Fluoride: Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen the enamel and protect against decay. Inadequate fluoride exposure, whether from drinking water, toothpaste, or dental treatments, can increase susceptibility to decay.
  • Genetics: Some individuals may be more genetically predisposed to tooth decay due to variations in the composition of their saliva or enamel.

Prevention of tooth decay involves maintaining good oral hygiene practices, including regular brushing and flossing, limiting sugary and acidic foods and beverages, and attending routine dental check-ups for professional cleanings and preventive treatments like fluoride applications. Early detection and treatment of decay can help prevent its progression and preserve tooth structure.

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