Tooth decay, or dental caries, is one of the most common dental problems faced by people throughout the world. It has been estimated that around 36% of the world adult population is affected by dental caries of permanent teeth, and around 9% in the primary dentition. Interestingly, tooth decay is more common in the developed countries than in the developing or under-developed nations. This is because of consumption of higher amounts of refined sugars in these countries.
What is Dental Caries?
Dental caries is a bacterial infection that results in gradual decaying and destruction of the tooth structure. Various bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans, Streoptococcus sobrinus, and lactobacilli have been known to cause tooth decay in both the crowns and roots of teeth. The tooth structure is gradually “eaten away” by the bacteria, resulting in softening and ultimate fracture of the affected tooth.
Causes of Dental Caries
Poor oral hygiene is the foremost cause of tooth decay. Other factors include ingestion of diet rich in sugars and carbohydrates (especially bakery products), and the consumption of acidic or alcoholic beverages. All these food items tend to decrease the pH levels within the oral cavity, and allow favorable environment for growth and replication of bacteria.
In addition, various medical and dental conditions can result in a reduced salivary flow within the mouth, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, or salivary duct obstruction. It has been shown that saliva acts as a buffer and regulates the oral cavity pH, in addition to serving as a cleansing and anti-bacterial medium. Hence, in case of reduced salivary output, chances of dental caries increase manifold.
How to prevent Dental Caries?
The centuries old saying “prevention is better than cure” holds true in case of dental health too! It should be kept in mind that once a tooth is infected with caries, the process cannot be reversed and the only treatment option would be to remove the carious lesion, and place a suitable filling material in its place. So far, no dental restorative material has been developed that can serve as an ideal substitute for the natural tooth. Hence, it is imperative to prevent caries development to avoid destruction of healthy tooth structure.
Oral Hygiene Maintenance
Studies have shown that brushing your teeth twice a day can minimize the risk of dental caries. However, it is important that you brush your teeth in accordance with the method instructed by your dentist. In addition, use of a dental floss and a mouthwash can offer protection against tooth decay.
A balanced diet is not only good for general health, but also for your teeth. A diet replete in simplified sugars provides an ideal environment for caries causing bacteria to flourish within the oral cavity. This is because the breakdown of some sugars can start right from the oral cavity, which causes the intra-oral pH to drop, allowing bacterial growth.
Various minerals such as calcium and phosphorous are essential in bone and tooth development. Hence, these components should be a part of our daily diet. Additionally, other ingredients such as vitamins, and some “good fats” such as Omega 3, have also been shown to prevent tooth caries.
Like other minerals, fluoride has been shown to enhance the resistance of teeth against caries development. Fluoride can either be applied to the teeth directly though toothpastes, mouthwashes, and chewing gums, or a dentist can apply fluoride gels or varnishes at the clinic. Additionally, fluoride can be added in the diet. However, before using any fluoride containing dental product, you must first consult your dentist to ascertain if you have fluoride deficiency.
Visit Your Dentist Regularly!
You should schedule a dental appointment if you have not scene your dentist in a while. Contrary to prevalent notion, caries can also be present inside the teeth even if it’s not visible to the naked eye. The sophisticated equipment present at the dental office, such as x-rays and intra-oral cameras, can detect caries development in even the most hidden areas of the teeth. Therefore, regular dental visits will help in prevention, early detection, and management of dental caries.