Tooth decay

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Tooth decay also referred to as cavities or caries are decayed areas of the teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes.

Why should I be aware of this?

Tooth decay is a common dental ailment that may occur at any time or age. However, since the onset of tooth decay is strongly related to the unregulated consumption of sweet foods and beverages; it tends to affect the young and adolescents more than any other age. One form is diagnosed in nursing infants and is referred to as nursing caries.

Cavities and tooth decay are one of the most common health problems around the world. They're especially common in children, but anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants and older adults.

If cavities aren't treated, they get larger and the decay can cause a severe toothache, infection, tooth loss and other complications. Regular dental visits and good brushing and flossing habits go a long way toward preventing cavities and tooth decay.

All about tooth decay

Tooth decay describes the condition wherein the tooth, under a variety of harsh conditions, break down leading to the formation of a cavity. It starts with a hole/opening in the enamel. If this is not treated, it progressively reaches the deeper sections of the tooth, where the pulp and the nerves are causing the tooth to become sensitive to a variety of stimuli, a variety of gum problems such as inflammation and swelling, pain and ultimately tooth loss.

Causes of tooth decay

  • Poor oral hygiene: Irregular and improper brushing, not flossing between teeth, not rinsing with water or mouthwash after meals speed up the process of tooth decay.
  • Unregulated diet of sweet food and drinks: Periodic snacking on aerated drinks, jam, marmalade, even potato chips can lead to the formation of acidic by - products which damage the surface of the tooth enamel. This is the reason why most young children adolescents suffer from tooth decay.
  • Bad or worn out dental fillings: Tooth decay might develop again from exposed tooth surfaces.

Areas likely to decay

  • Surfaces
  • Teeth next to each other because this area is hard to clean
  • Pits
  • Fissures in the "chewing" (occlusal) surface of teeth
  • Gum line

Symptoms

  • The most obvious sign of tooth decay is toothache, particularly after hot or cold foods or drinks. However, pain may not be present until decay has reached an advanced stage.
  • Pits or holes may also be visible in the teeth.
  • Most tooth decay is discovered at an early stage during a routine check up.
  • A serious complication can be the development of a tooth abscess - the build up of pus resulting from a bacterial infection of the centre of the tooth.
  • Infection may spread out from the root of the tooth and to the bones supporting the tooth.
  • Plaque and tartar also irritate the gums, and lead to a gum disease called gingivitis.

What can I do?

  • Maintain a low fat, moderate carbohydrate and high fibre rich diet.
  • Avoid snacking in between meals.
  • Limit your teeth exposure sugar to not more than 5-7 times a day (any meals, including breakfast, lunch and dinner or a glass of sweet milk are all considered to be exposure to sugar).
  • Avoid radiographic exposures (X-rays) for the pregnant mother and child below 2 years to avoid disruption in the calcification procedures of teeth.
  • Avoid intake of tetracycline and other drugs during pregnancy (especially in the 1st and 3rd trimester) and for the infants for the first couple of years of life to avoid staining and mottling of teeth.
  • Avoid consumption of foods and water containing excessive levels of fluoride (For example in India water fluoride level is in excess in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, etc.)
  • Avoid sweet foods before going to sleep at night.
  • Specially don't allow the child to sleep with the milk bottle in the mouth as this leads to 'Nursing Bottle Caries' or tooth decay.

References

  • Cavities/tooth decay
  • Preventing Tooth Decay
  • Tooth Decay