Tooth decay is the disease known as caries. Caries is highly preventable and it affects most people to some degree during their lifetime.
Tooth decay occurs when your teeth are frequently exposed to foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda pop, candy, ice cream, milk, cake and even fruits, vegetables and juices. Natural bacteria live in your mouth and form plaque. The plaque interacts with deposits left on your teeth from sugary and starchy foods to produce acids. These acids damage tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or demineralizing, the mineral structure of teeth, producing tooth decay and weakening the teeth.
How are Cavities Prevented?
The acids formed by plaque can be counteracted by saliva in your mouth, which acts as a buffer and remineralizing agent. Dentists often recommend chewing sugarless gum to stimulate your flow of saliva. However saliva alone is not sufficient to combat tooth decay. The best way to prevent caries is to brush and floss regularly. To rebuild the early damage caused by plaque bacteria, we use fluoride (a natural substance) to help remineralize the tooth structure. Fluoride is added to toothpaste to fight cavities and clean teeth. The most common source of fluoride is in the water we drink. Fluoride is added to most community water supplies and to many bottled beverages. Your dentist may recommend special high concentration fluoride gels, mouth rinses, or fluoride supplements if you have a high risk for cavities.
Who Is At Risk For Cavities?
Because we all carry bacteria in our mouths, everyone is at risk for cavities. Those with a diet high in carbohydrates and those who live in areas without fluoridated water are likely candidates for cavities. People with a lot of old fillings have a higher chance of developing tooth decay because the area around the old fillings are good breeding grounds for bacteria. Children and senior citizens are the two groups at highest risk for cavities.
See your dentist at least every 6 months for checkups and professional cleanings. Because cavities can be difficult to detect a thorough dental examination is very important.