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Tooth decay and what you should know

Tooth decay and what you should knowDo you know that your oral health is vital? Dentists usually advise that knowing how to properly take care of your teeth is very important. If left uncared for, it can lead to teeth decay. In fact, tooth decay is normally a consequence of poor oral hygiene. Studies have shown that tooth decay is one of the most common diseases in the world. It affects a huge portion of the population.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay, also known as a cavity, or cavities, occurs when bacteria living in your mouth make acid that then begins to eat away at your teeth. Untreated tooth decay may cause infection, extreme pain and the loss of tooth. The decay process begins with the unnoticeable damage to the enamel of your teeth and then steadily progresses to deeper layers of the tooth – eventually leading to the pulp.

The causes of tooth decay

The main cause of tooth decay is the frequent consumption of sugary foods, drinks and sweets. The bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar. As they digest it they produce an acid, which eats away at the enamel, eventually leading to the development of cavities, or caries. The bacteria will produce this acid every time you have something sugary or sweet and the acid can remain in your mouth for up to two hours before it is neutralised by your saliva. So if you eat and drink sweet things regularly throughout the day, your saliva will not have enough time to neutralise the acid and gradually tooth decay will set in.

Other likely causes of tooth decay include the following

  • Not brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and not seeing a dentist for check-ups and cleanings.
  • Often times, many people have issues with tooth decay – no thanks to genetics. Just as you inherit the colour of your eyes and hair from your family, you also inherit deep tooth crevices and enamel issues, which lead to cavities.
  • Not having enough saliva. Saliva washes away food and harmful sugars, so it helps protect your teeth from decay. A dry mouth may be caused by a condition such as xerostomia or Sjögren’s syndrome, by taking certain medicines, or by breathing through your mouth. Older adults are more likely to have a dry mouth.
  • Eating foods that are high in sugar and other carbohydrates, which feed the bacteria in your mouth
  • Not getting enough fluoride: Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by making teeth more resistant to acids produced by plaque. Fluoride is added to many public water supplies.
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking, using spit (smokeless) tobacco, or breathing secondhand smoke.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you can help prevent tooth decay by following these tips:

  • Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner.
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking.
  • Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (where decay often starts) to protect them from decay.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination.
Gabriel Ifinnwa

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