Tooth Decay: Prevent Dental Cavities
Medically Reviewed by: Joel Berg, DDS, MS
Tooth decay is a degenerative oral health condition that results from the breakdown of tooth enamel. The destruction of tooth structure associated with decay can lead to the development of holes in the teeth, more commonly referred to as cavities. It is often caused as result of dietary choices and oral hygiene practices.
Many of the foods that we eat contain sugars and starches. When these foods are left on the teeth, plaque (the sticky substance that forms on teeth) combines with the bacteria that live in the mouth. This combination produces acids that damage the tooth enamel causing decay.
What Role Does Diet and Nutrition Play?
Maintaining a healthy diet with proper nutrition is essential in the promotion of good oral hygiene and avoidance of tooth decay. Foods and drinks that are high in sugars are more prone to form the acid that attacks the tooth enamel. Limiting foods and drinks that are high in sugar and carbonation can help to prevent decay and improve oral hygiene.
How is it Treated?
If decay is detected before it reaches the nerve of the tooth, a dentist can restore the tooth by removing the decay and replacing it with a dental filling. If left untreated, it may reach the nerve, meaning that a root canal procedure would more than likely be needed to save the tooth.
Does Decay Affect Children and Adults?
Even though tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease, everyone is at risk. We all have bacteria in our mouth and are therefore susceptible to the acids that break down enamel and open the door to decay.
Many parents are not aware of the importance of baby teeth (primary teeth). This misconception comes from the fact that baby teeth are temporary. Many people therefore assume that the primary teeth are not as important as the permanent teeth. But decay affecting baby teeth can be a serious issue affecting future dental development.
Baby teeth serve important purposes such as helping children chew naturally and speak normally and clearly. Baby teeth are also important for providing a place for permanent teeth to erupt or grow into properly. If baby teeth are mistreated, it can have a detrimental effect on long-term oral health.
Tooth decay affects millions of people, but it can be easily prevented. The best methods of prevention include:
- Brush at least twice a day with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
- Floss daily to remove food debris from in between the teeth.
- Maintain a healthy diet of nutritious foods.
- Avoid snacks and drinks that are high in sugar.
- Visit your dentist for regular check ups and dental cleanings.
- Use an antimicrobial mouth rinse to help reduce plaque.
- Have dental sealants (a protective coating) placed on the biting surfaces of the back teeth.
About the Reviewer
Joel H. Berg, DDS, MS, is a board-certified pediatric dentist who serves as the Chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington and as Dental Director at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dr. Berg earned his DDS and Certificate in Pediatric Dentistry from the University of Iowa in 1983 and 1985 respectively. He is the author of numerous published manuscripts and abstracts and a co-editor of a textbook on early childhood oral health.