Dental Caries: An Overview

Dental caries, also referred to as tooth decay or cavities, are among the most widespread and common diseases today. It is a disease found in adults and older people but is prevalent in children with milk teeth.  

When you consume sugary food and beverages, the bacteria on your teeth break them down. This results in the production of acids that can seriously damage the hard tissues of your tooth. Finally leading to the formation of dental caries or cavities.

What Causes Dental Caries?

Generally, dental caries can be spotted in two areas. Occlusal caries typically forms on the topmost part of your tooth. It is the area where food particles repeatedly come in contact with your teeth. Secondly, interproximal caries are also dental caries that form between two teeth. These are the two primary locations where bacteria grow and pose a risk to your oral hygiene. 

You should care and clean your teeth, gums, and surrounding areas properly. The harmful bacteria will begin to break down the sugars left over from your food in your mouth. Thus converting them into acids as a waste product.

These acids are quite strong to demineralize the enamel on your teeth and form tiny holes. This is the first stage of dental caries. Once your enamel begins to break down, your tooth loses the ability to reinforce the calcium and phosphate structures of the teeth naturally through saliva. Slowly with time, acid penetrates into your teeth and destroys them from the inside out.

Here are the processes of how dental caries develops:

1 Plaque forms

Dental plaque is a clear sticky film formed on your teeth. It starts to develop when you eat food containing a lot of starches and sugars and do not clean your teeth well. 

When the accumulation of these sugars, bacteria start to feed on them and form plaque. Plaque that deposits on your teeth and hardens over time around your gum line. It finally forms calculus or tartar. The tartar formed on your teeth is difficult to remove and thus creates a shield for harmful bacteria.

2 Plaque attacks

The acidic nature of the plaque start to remove minerals in your tooth’s outer, hard layer called the enamel. Resulting in tooth erosion which causes tiny holes or openings in the enamel. This is the first stage of tooth cavities

Slowly as these areas of the enamel are worn away, the acid and bacteria can easily reach the next layer of your teeth. This next layer is referred to as dentin. This layer is much softer than your enamel and less resistant to acid. Dentin contains tiny tubes that directly communicate with the nerve of your tooth, causing tooth sensitivity.

3 Destruction continues

With time your dental caries develop, the bacteria and acid continue their march through your teeth. It keeps moving to the next inner tooth layer or pulp. This pulp contains blood vessels and nerves. The bacteria cause the pulp to swell and cause irritation. As there is no place for the swelling to expand it presses the nerves to cause pain. The discomfort can even extend outside of your tooth root to the bone.

Dental Caries Treatments

Professionally, your dentist might deal with dental caries in four main ways. Your dentist will carry out these procedures to fulfill the damage incurred from dental caries.

1 Dental Filling 

Dental fillings are a widely used method to treat dental caries. Your dentist will drill into your affected area and remove the decayed material present inside the cavity. At the end he will pack the empty portion with an appropriate dental filling material. 

There are different types of filling materials to fill your teeth depending on the area where caries has occurred. 

Today composite resins are the most common filling material used worldwide. Your dentist might use composite resins as they have a great color palette which can be used to repair damage caused by caries. Your front teeth are visible when you smile. In the case of your back teeth, your dentist might prefer using dental filling materials which are stronger.

2 Dental Crowns

Dental crowns are another option your dentist might use to treat dental caries. Your dentist might use this option when a large proportion of your tooth is destroyed. If your tooth decay is such that it needs a fill, then your tooth might be more prone to cracks in the future. It could ultimately lead to breaking off your teeth. 

In such a scenario, your dentist would attempt to save your remaining tooth, repair it, and finally fit your tooth with an alloy or porcelain crown covering.

3 Root Canal

Another method of treatment your doctor or dentist might employ is the root canal. It could be dangerous when your tooth decay has reached advanced stages and has progressed through the enamel. There are chances it might advance further and damage your tooth nerves or the tooth root. 

In case of severe damage, your dentist might go for a root canal treatment. He would remove the damaged or dead nerve together with the blood vessel tissue or pulp. At the end the area is filled in. Finally he would place a crown over the affected area.

4 Extraction

In some cases, the tooth might get damaged beyond repair. Your dentist might extract the affected tooth as there could be risks of infection spreading to your jaw bone. 

Tooth extraction or the removal of some teeth might affect the alignment of those teeth left in your mouth. The best option your dentist might recommend is a bridge, partial denture, or implant to be inserted in place of your missing areas. 

Dental Caries Risk Factors

If you have teeth, you are at risk of getting dental caries. The following factors can increase your risk of having caries:

1 Inadequate brushing. If you do not clean your teeth immediately after meals, plaque on teeth can start to form quickly. It is the first stage of decay.

2 Tooth location

Dental caries generally occur in your back teeth ie your molars and premolars get affected. This is probably because the back teeth have pits, grooves, crannies, and multiple roots that tend to collect food particles. This makes them harder to clean compared to your easy-to-reach front teeth.

3 Certain foods and drinks. There are certain food items that cling or stick to your teeth for a long time: sugar, honey, milk, ice cream, honey, soda, cookies, dry cereal, and chips. Such food items cause decay compared to foods that are easily washed away by your saliva.

4 Frequent sipping and snacking. When you are in the habit of frequently snacking or sipping sugary drinks, you give your mouth bacteria more fuel. As a result, more acids are produced, that attack your teeth and wear them down. And sipping acidic drinks or other acidic drinks throughout the day helps create a continual acid bath over your teeth.

5 Dry mouth. A dry mouth is typically caused when you have a lack of saliva in your mouth. Saliva has several benefits as it prevents tooth decay. The saliva helps wash away your food particles and plaque formation on your teeth. Minerals present in saliva also help counter the acid produced by the harmful bacteria. 

Certain conditions might increase your risk of dental caries by reducing saliva production, which you need to address. These could be certain medications or some medical conditions which might lead to dry mouth. 

How to Prevent Dental Caries

Dental caries can have a bad effect on your teeth and oral hygiene. If left unattended, your dental cavities can be prevented if you maintain a good oral hygiene regimen. This should include brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.

In fact, recent studies show that regular brushing using an electric toothbrush can help prevent tooth loss. It is also effective in removing the plaque bacteria that might lead to tooth decay. 

Today’s most electric brushes feature advanced oral care technologies that can gently and effectively clean your mouth including tooth surfaces. The electric toothbrushes have micro-vibrating bristles, which effectively remove plaque between your teeth and along your gum line.

You should also keep up with your regular dental check-ups and visit your dentist periodically. This would help you to identify pre-existing conditions which could cause serious issues in the future. The earlier your dentist can spot the signs of poor oral hygiene, like a buildup of plaque – the better your chances of preventing dental caries. Moreover, it would also help reduce gum problems.

Can Dental Caries be Prevented?

These are steps that you can take to prevent dental caries:

  • Make sure that you get enough fluoride while brushing your teeth, drinking tap water, and from flouride mouse rinse. 
  • You should practice good oral health by brushing your teeth twice a day. Preferably use fluoride toothpaste. Also, regularly floss your teeth.
  • Always make smart food choices by limiting your foods and drinks that are high in sugars content. Eat nutritious, balanced meals and limit snacking.
  • Avoid using tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco. If you currently use tobacco, try quitting.
  • Visit a dentist for regular check-ups and professional cleanings.
  • Also, make sure that your children get sealants on their teeth. Dental sealants are basically thin plastic coatings that protect your chewing surfaces, especially at the back teeth. Children should get sealants on their back teeth before decay can attack the teeth.
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