What is tooth decay / Cavities?
Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks, and not cleaning your teeth well.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems. They’re especially common in children, teenagers, and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants. If cavities aren’t treated, they get larger and affect deeper layers of your teeth. They can lead to severe toothache, infection, and tooth loss.
What are the symptoms of tooth decay?
The most common symptom of tooth decay is tooth pain. But pain isn’t always present when tooth decay is. Other possible indicators of tooth decay include:
- Gum swelling in the vicinity of a particular tooth.
- Chronic bad breath.
- Tooth discoloration; in particular, brown or black spots on the teeth.
What causes tooth decay?
Tooth decay is mainly caused by plaque, which is a sticky film that is constantly forming over the teeth. Bacteria is abundant in plaque. When you eat– and particularly when you indulge in sugary foods– the bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars producing acids, which then eats away at the tooth’s enamel. Some people are more likely to have cavities than other people. Risk factors for tooth decay include:
- Poor oral hygiene. Plaque is constantly forming on the teeth, good oral hygiene is crucial to preventing tooth decay. If you neglect to brush twice a day or regular flossing, you’re much more likely to develop cavities.
- Overindulgence in sugary foods. The bacteria in plaque feed on sugars. Eating sugary food and drinks put you at a greater risk of developing tooth decay.
- Dry mouth. It might seem odd that a dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, but saliva plays a major role in cavity prevention. Why? Saliva, the mouth’s natural lubricant, washes away remnant food particles. People with dry mouth don’t produce an adequate amount of saliva, which results in food particles and sugars being left behind on the teeth surface. Dry mouth can be caused by side effects of medications or by certain medical conditions.
- Lack of fluoride. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. Fluoride strengthens the tooth’s enamel, helping to protect it from decay-causing acids. Use fluoride-based toothpaste and drink plenty of water due to its rich fluoride presence.
- Smoking. It’s no secret that smoking is harmful to your oral health. Besides causing staining and putting you at an increased risk of developing gum disease, smoking causes plaque and tartar to build upon the teeth– thereby also increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Are you concerned that you might have a cavity? Don’t postpone a visit to your dentist any longer. The earlier you seek treatment, the less likely it is that your cavity will progress into a more serious oral health concern.