What is it?
Tooth decay or cavities are caused by bacteria in plaque that can convert sugar and carbohydrates in the foods we eat, into acids. Those acids then dissolve the minerals in the tooth to the point that the protective outer layer known as enamel breaks down. Once the enamel is lost the more vulnerable layer of the tooth known as dentin is exposed. At this point, the teeth may be sensitive to sweet foods or to hot and cold temperatures.
Diagnosis is made by the dentist who examines the teeth but will also take x-rays to assess the depth of the tooth decay as well as hidden caries found between the teeth.
After the dentist removes the decayed material in the cavity (usually following the use of anesthesia to block the pain), the cavity is filled. For small cavities, the tooth can be filled with regular resin material known as composite. However, if a cavity is large with extensive loss of tooth structure, the remaining tooth may not be able to support a simple filling. In this case, the dentist may remove the decay, fill the cavity, and cover or cap the tooth with an artificial crown.
- Reduce the amount of plaque and bacteria in the mouth. The best way to do this is by brushing and flossing daily and receiving professional dental cleans twice a year
- Reduce the amount of acid in your mouth by eating less sugary or starchy foods
- Chewing gum that contains xylitol helps to counteract the acidity that occurs after eating.
- Teeth can be strengthened by fluoride found in tap water, toothpaste and professional fluoride gels and varnishes.
- In children, having the dentist apply a sealant as soon as the teeth erupt can protect new molars.