Tooth decay is also known as dental caries. When some food debris remains in the mouth, especially sugars and startchy food, the bacteria in the mouth act on it and form that slippery white layer on the tooth called plaque. As a result acid is produced .This acid starts dissolving the enamel of the tooth.The result is cavities. Once dental decay sets in, even if one brushes regularly it does not stop. It is taken care of, only if it is treated by the dentist. The dentist will remove the decayed tooth portion, reach the healthy sterile part of the tooth and fill it with a filling material. Usually the tooth coloured composite resin is the material of choice for fillings. In kids teeth glass ionomer is used. Silver amalgam is obsolete now, as it contains mercury. Nobody wants mercury in their mouths. The amount of tooth grinding to be done for a silver amalgam filling is much more than the resin. This is because silver amalgam, sets or gets hardened over time and a retention form has to be created, so it lasts longer. In a resin filling, we use a UV Light to set or harden the filling. So the tooth is ground only where the decay is, as no retention form is to be created. Plus silver amalgam is an unsightly grey but the resin is matching with the tooth. The resin monoblocks with the tooth and creates a nice single unit. Not getting it filled in time, can lead to the progress of decay to such an extent that it reaches the nerve. To treat this,the dentist would need to do a root canal treatment.
Kids and older patients are usually more prone, to cavities. Kids have an increased diet of processed foods which lead to cavity formation. The old people lose the protection of the gums on their teeth. As these gums recede, the roots get exposed and lead to root caries.
Unfortunately the decay or dental cavity is silent for a very long time. Till it hits the nerve of the tooth there is no pain. By the time pain is established or acute sensitivity to hot or cold is established, the tooth has reached the root canal stage. Before this if there is food lodgement , especially between the teeth or mild sensitivity to hot or cold , one should immediately head for a dental checkup.
There are some simple ways to prevent decay.
1- Brush your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. The importance of Fluorine in preventing tooth decay should not be underestimated. The fluorine from the paste, enters the enamel of the tooth.It converts the hyroxyapatite in the enamel to fluoroapatite.This fluoroapatite is more resistant to acid attack. Fluoride also reduces the capacity of organisms in plaque to produce acid. Fluoride brings about remineralization of enamel in cavities that are decalcified by acids.
2- Floss your teeth every day . This will remove the food stuck between the teeth, which is not removed with brushing.
3- Get sealants put in the biting surfaces of the back teeth ie molars and premolars which have pits and fissures, by the dentist, as a preventive measure for cavities. The sealants provide a protective coating on the surface of these teeth and prevent them from collection of plaque. It is usually done in children as they have freshly erupted permanent teeth. However it can be of use to adults also.
4- Rinse your mouth thoroughly with water, every time you snack or eat during the day.
5- Eat the sugar free chewing gum.It neutralizes the acidic ph of the mouth and that prevents the bacteria from thriving in the mouth. Also it increase the salivary secretion, so the food debris in the mouth gets washed away.
6- Have a lot of fibre in your diet ie fresh fruits and vegetables.
7- Drink lots of water.
8- Use a mouth wash or mouth rinse. There are various mouth rinses in the market are antimicrobial. They have been clinically proven to reduce plaque. Using them, especially after eating sugary or statchy foods , has helped to reduce cavities.
9 – Donot drink or atleast limit drinking sodas, diet soft drinks and aerated drinks.These contain sugar with which the bacteria act and produce plaque leading to cavities. In addition, these drinks have acids which cause erosion of enamel and expose the inner layers thus making the tooth sensitive, painful and prone to decay.
10- Visit your dentist every 6 months.There are cavities which can only be detected by a dentist or by doing xrays. Visiting the dentist regularly and getting teeth cleaning done is a good way to prevent cavities and having good oral hygeine.
Posted By – Dr. Suprriya B. Bhatia