Tooth decay, also known as cavities or caries, is the breakdown of teeth due to acids made by bacteria. Specifically, tooth decay occurs when bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa, which occur naturally in our oral cavity, take up sugar from food and convert it into acid. These acids attack the enamel, weaken it and leave the tooth surface porous.
Our saliva is usually able to remineralise and repair minor damages to the tooth. Frequent sweet treats during the day and poor oral hygiene, however, leads to a gradual degradation of the tooth enamel, which can result in the formation of a recess or hole under the tooth surface.
In the early stages caries is not always immediately visible. After all, it often starts on the chewing surfaces of the molars, between the teeth, on exposed roots and around fillings.
If plaque is not consistently removed as part of regular oral care, then the likelihood of caries forming on the teeth increases.
Only your dentist can tell from an x-ray whether caries is in an early stage and how far it has progressed.
Caries is frequently already well advanced deep inside the tooth, but this is not visible from the outside.
However, you can recognise some of the symptoms of caries yourself. Possible signs of caries are:
- Toothache: Whether you notice tooth decay through pain depends on where the caries is located. A cavity in the enamel may not necessarily be painful. It only becomes painful when the decay reaches the soft middle layer of a tooth, the so-called pulp with nerves and blood vessels.
- Teeth that are sensitive to sweet, hot or cold food or drinks.
- Pain when chewing.
Prevention of Dental Caries (Tooth Decay)
The prevention of dental caries can be approached in three ways:
- Use fluorides, and brush teeth twice daily which will help make the tooth enamel more resistant to decay.
- Reduce the frequent consumption of sugars.
- Apply pit and fissures seallants – dental procedure.