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Tooth Decay

This article explains how you and your dentist can work together to help prevent tooth decay.

  • Teeth have a hard enamel surface
  • But poor oral hygiene can lead to a build-up of plaque
  • Which can lead to decay
  • If decay is left untreated
  • the nerve of the tooth may become infected and die
  • This may cause an abscess

What is decay/caries?

Tooth decay or dental caries to give its correct name is the process where the tooth becomes destroyed. In its earliest stages, caries will only be visible to a dentist or hygienist, so regular check-ups are essential. Decay first appears as small dark or opaque patches on the tooth surface. If left untreated the tooth may have to be extracted. Tooth decay is rarely painful until far advanced.

What causes dental caries?

Everyone's mouth contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria build up on the surface of the teeth and gums quickly multiply to form a soft sticky layer called plaque. These plaque bacteria use the sugar in food and drinks to produce acids. It is these acids which attack tooth surfaces and gradually dissolve the hard outer coating of the tooth known as enamel. With frequent sugar consumption the enamel will eventually break down and a hole or cavity will appear.

Is every one equally at risk from dental decay?

Frequent sugar consumption is the main contributing factor leading to tooth decay. Whilst all teeth are at risk, some people are at increased risk due to other factors. Saliva is nature's way of protecting the teeth by neutralising the acids, produced by plaque bacteria. Anything that reduces the amount or flow of saliva can contribute to an increased risk of decay. The regular use of fluoride toothpaste will significantly reduce the risk from caries.

What factors increase the risk of tooth decay?

  • Teeth already with fillings or crowns are more risk as the edges of the filling are particularly vulnerable to acid attack. With increasing

    age, receding gums are also more common and this may contribute to increased risk as the root is not covered by enamel but by a

    softer material that is more easily dissolved. Exposed dentine on roots of the teeth can also be the reason for dentine sensitivity
  • The wearing of any appliance that makes it more difficult to brush such as partial dentures, bridge or orthodontic braces
  • The elderly often suffer from a condition known as dry mouth (Xerostomia). This can result from ageing, medication or certain types of

    drug therapy

How is decay treated?

In its earliest stage, decay may be reversed by the use of fluoride. However once a cavity has formed the damaged part needs to be removed and replaced with filling. If left untreated for too long the tooth may have to be extracted.

Can caries be prevented?

Yes. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and reducing the amount and frequency of sugar in your diet will help. More particularly, avoid refined sugars such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose and maltrose.

Why is fluoride so important?

Fluoride is thought to work in several ways to help prevent decay. Studies have shown that regular use of fluoride toothpaste will significantly reduce decay.

The use of fluoride rinses can also contribute to an additional 40% reduction in dental decay. When using fluoride rinses or gels, it is best to use them at a different time from brushing so as to extend the exposure of the teeth to fluoride.

How does fluoride toothpaste and rinse work?

Fluoride works on tooth surface reducing the formation of plaque acids, preventing the loss of minerals by plaque acid action and by promoting the healing of the early stages if decay through a process known as remineralisation.

Fluoride in the form of rinses and gels has also been used effectively to protect and treat sensitive teeth.

Is fluoride safe?

Fluoride is safe and most effective way of preventing dental decay. Fluoride occurs naturally in some areas and in few others it is added to water. However, 90% of the UK population do not receive fluoride in their water supply which is why it is so important to use a fluoride toothpaste.

The AIDP way to healthy, decay-free teeth

  • Avoid sugary snacks and drinks between meals
  • Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Visit your dental practice as often as recommended by your dental professional
  • Use additional fluoride treatments as directed by your dental professional