Tooth decay is the disease known as caries or cavities. Most people are affected to some degree by tooth decay at some point in their lives. Decay, however, is highly preventable. Tooth decay occurs when your teeth are frequently exposed to foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda pop, candy, ice cream, cake and even foods that are considered healthy such as milk, vegetables, fruits and juices. Bacteria live in our mouth and interact with deposits left on our teeth after eating and drinking. Sugars and starches are converted to acids, which can damage tooth enamel by dissolving or de-mineralizing the tooth structure. This eventually results in decay.
The acids formed by bacteria and plaque can be counteracted by saliva in your mouth, which acts a buffering agent. People with drier mouths, resulting from reduced salivary flow, tend to have a higher incidence of decay than people with a more typical salivary flow. However, saliva alone is not enough to combat decay.
The best way to prevent caries is to brush and floss regularly, removing the harmful plaque build-up. To rebuild any early damage caused by acids, we use fluoride, a natural substance that helps to re-mineralize tooth structure. The most common source of fluoride is tap water, but it is also found in toothpaste, some mouthwashes, and some bottled and canned beverages. If you are a medium to high risk for decay, your dentist may recommend a prescriptive, high concentration fluoride gel or mouth rinse for use at home. Your dentist may also use a protective plastic barrier for the chewing surface of the tooth called a sealant. Sealants prevent debris from being impacted into the grooves of the tooth, thereby effectively reducing chewing surface decay.
To help reduce the chance for decay, you should:
- Cut down on sweets and between meal snacks. These sugary and starchy treats put your teeth at risk.
- Brush after every meal and floss at least once a day.
- Purchase toothpastes that contain fluoride.
- See your dentist at least every 6 months for check-ups and professional cleanings.
If you have any questions about dental decay, Dr. Mahlin would be happy to discuss them with you.
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