What is tooth decay?

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is damage that occurs when bacteria makes acids that eat away at a tooth.

Tooth decay can lead to holes in the teeth, known as cavities. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss. Tooth decay is heavily influenced by lifestyle; diet, oral hygiene habits, the presence of fluoride in water and toothpaste.

Heredity also plays a role in how susceptible your teeth may be to decay. Tooth decay is most likely to develop in pits on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, in between teeth, and near the gum line. Regardless of where they occur, the best way to spot decay and treat it before issues arise, is by visiting your dentist regularly for a dental examination.

A tooth has three layers:

  1. The hard outer layer is called enamel
  2. The middle layer is called dentin
  3. The centre of the tooth is called the pulp – containing the nerves and blood vessels.

The more layers that are affected by decay, the worse the damage.

Bacteria and food can cause tooth decay

A clear, sticky substance called plaque is always forming on your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat. As the bacteria feed, they produce acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after you eat. Over time, these acids destroy tooth enamel, causing tooth decay

The following increases the likelihood of tooth decay:

  • Not brushing and flossing regularly
  • Not seeing a dentist for dental examinations or 6-monthly preventative hygiene care
  • Eating foods that are high in sugar and other carbohydrates
  • 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.
  • 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 mouth breathing. Older adults are more likely to have a dry mouth.
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use or second hand smoke.

How can I help prevent cavities?

  • Brush at least twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth and below the gum line.
  • Have regular dental examinations.
    • Preventative care can prevent problems from occurring and keep small issues from worsening.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet limiting starchy or sugary foods.
    • When consuming these foods, try to eat them with a meal instead of as a snack to minimise the number of times teeth are exposed to the harsh acids.
  • Check if drinking water is fluoridated.
    • If personal water supply does not contain fluoride, a dentist may prescribe daily fluoride supplements.

Dental hygiene is simple when you have the know-how. Contact our Patient Coordinator on (03) 9460 7070 for advice on the best way to keep your teeth healthy between visits.

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