Dental caries is another term for cavities or tooth decay. Dental caries is one of the most prevalent dental problems in the modern world. However, it is also a simple issue to prevent. Over time, bacteria in the mouth break down food deposits left on the teeth. This process produces acid, which can erode the hard substances from which the teeth are made. Over time, holes or cavities develop.
Types of Caries
Dental caries is most likely to form on two specific spots, each of which has a different name. The first, occlusal caries, forms on the uppermost part of the teeth because food comes into contact with this part most frequently. Interproximal caries forms in the spaces between the teeth, as food debris can easily get stuck there.
If food particles are allowed to build up on the teeth, the bacteria in the mouth will begin to digest them. A by-product of this process is harsh acid. Over time, the acid can break down the minerals of the tooth enamel and leave small holes that enable acid to enter the tooth. This gradually destroys the internal structure of the tooth, forming a cavity.
When dental caries is very small, the affected individual will probably not experience any symptoms. As the cavity worsens, the teeth may become sensitive, especially to hot, cold, and sweet foods. Eventually, the decay affects the nerve of the tooth, sometimes causing a severe and constant toothache and discoloration. If the cavity is advanced, a visible hole may appear.
Although one may suspect dental caries, the condition requires proper diagnosis by a dentist, who will visually inspect the teeth and probe them with a special tool to detect any small holes, pits, or areas of erosion. This method may not find very small caries at the beginning of their formation, but x-rays can reveal early signs of decay as well as any damage to the tooth at a deeper level that is not visible upon examination.
If a cavity is spotted very early, it’s possible to reverse the damage to the tooth. Thoroughly cleaning the teeth, can completely remove food particles and halt acid erosion. If the damage is not too extensive, the tooth has the ability to gradually repair itself. However, most people do not know about their cavities until they have progressed beyond this point and become too deep. It can take months or even years before a cavity causes any discomfort.
Fillings are the most common treatment for dental caries. The dentist will excavate any decayed material from inside the tooth using a drill, then fill the hole with a hard-wearing material such as resin. In the case of very large cavities, however, the dentist may recommend repairing the tooth as much as possible and then covering it with a protective crown. If the decay has reached the nerve, a root canal procedure will remove the damaged nerve. Finally, if the tooth is too badly damaged to be salvaged, the only remaining treatment is to extract or “pull” the tooth.
An important step towards preventing dental caries is keeping food from building up on the teeth. Proper brushing and flossing removes debris, and generally reducing the amount of acid-forming bacteria in the mouth by using antibacterial mouthwash can also help. Chewing gum with xylitol has an antibacterial effect. Toothpaste enriched with fluoride can help strengthen teeth enamel. Reducing the amount of sugar and fizzy drinks in the diet can also reduce the risk of dental caries.
Prevention with Sealant
It is possible to prevent cavities from forming on molar teeth by coating them with sealants that protect the enamel. This is an effective way of preventing cavity formation on both milk teeth and adult teeth. In some cases, sealants can be used to stop existing tooth decay from getting any worse. However, this will only be successful if the decay has not yet penetrated the enamel.
Dental caries can lead to various complications if left untreated. The most common of these is tooth loss. Gum disease is also more likely to develop in people with dental caries and can lead to a more serious infection called periodontitis, which affects the tooth sockets and jaw bones and can cause widespread tooth loss. Very advanced dental caries can also cause abscesses. In serious cases, these can become septic and spread to the sinuses.
Anybody can develop dental caries, especially if they do not attend to their oral hygiene. However, some people are more at risk than others. Older people and children are most likely to get cavities in their teeth. Nighttime feeding of babies can also increase the risk of caries, as food remains on their teeth for a long time, while they sleep. Acid reflux can lead to dental caries because stomach acid can erode the teeth. Similarly, people with eating disorders such as bulimia are at a higher risk of dental caries, as stomach acid comes into contact with their teeth when they purge.