Dental Caries Defined
Dental caries, or dental decay, is an infectious condition that deteriorates the structure of teeth. The most common result of dental caries is a cavity—a hole or space in the teeth. Without proper treatment, dental caries can cause pain, tooth loss—and in rare cases when the infection spreads to the brain—even death. Tooth decay is a widespread disease, the second most prevalent after the common cold. Fortunately, there are some cases in which dental caries can be avoided.
How Does Tooth Decay Form?
The mouth is loaded with bacteria that latch onto plaque, the material that gathers at the surface of teeth when a person lacks adequate dental hygiene. When we eat sugar, for example, bacteria in the mouth break down the sugar for metabolism and produce acid as a by-product. In the absence of healthy saliva, pH levels in the mouth can decline to a highly acidic level and may eat away at the minerals in teeth enamel. This “erosion” process wherein more calcium and phosphate are removed from the tooth’s surface than what is put in is called “de-mineralization.” A healthy saliva level can reverse bacterial acid attacks and actually “re-mineralize” the tooth by putting calcium and phosphate back into teeth. Without a proper balance between “de-mineralization” and “re-mineralization,” teeth will buildup with bacteria inside cavities, a likely place where dental caries will form.
The following factors will lower your chance of dental decay:
Proper Salivary Function: Saliva replenishes enamel with calcium and phosphate and also helps protect teeth from acid-producing “bad” bacteria.
Adequate Dental Hygiene: Effective brushing with fluoride toothpaste will remove plaque from teeth where bacteria are most likely to form, reducing the chances of decay—not to mention daily flossing.
Healthy Diet: Eating right will reduce the amount of bad bacteria and acid in the mouth.
Risk factors for developing dental caries are dynamic and vary by individual. Even with effective dental hygiene habits and a low-sugar diet, you’re not exactly immune to dental caries, as the protective measures above include factors outside of a person’s control. The best approach is to consult your dentist to determine your risk for dental decay.
There are several products designed to prevent the effects of tooth decay that may be available through your local dental office. Some of these protective measures include:
- Antibacterial Agents
- Topical Fluoride
- Calcium & Phosphate Supplements
- pH Neutralizers
- Special Toothpaste & Mouth Rinse
- Xylitol Gum
Although there is no guarantee that the above products will impede the effects of dental caries, the best preventative strategy is to maintain proper dental hygiene, visit the dentist at least twice a year, and eat a healthy diet.