Dental decay is usually defined as acid attacking the tooth surfaces. Acid is produced when sugar from foods we eat comes in contact with plaque bacteria on and in between the teeth. Each sugar intake produces up to 30 minutes of acid production. If decay is not detected, it can cause extensive damage to the tooth. But don’t be too alarmed. Teeth do recover from early stages of decay, and damage can be repaired.
Early decay usually first appears as white spots. If the decay is not treated, the white spots can change colour and develop into cavities which need filling.
Decay operates in different ways which varies in length of time and intensity in individuals and different population groups. There are two groups which are most at risk from decay: those people aged between 15 and 30 and those aged over 60. Children aged under 15 are much less susceptible to decay having ‘grown up’ with fluoridated tap water. Research has found that children who have decay-free baby teeth, have a 75% chance of their permanent teeth remaining decay-free.
As we get older, gum tissues recede and tooth surfaces are exposed. Our tooth roots have no protective enamel, so decay can occur more rapidly and undermine the strength of the tooth.
The rate at which decay builds, depends on a balance between many factors. A variety of preventive methods may be used by your dentist to help limit the decay process. Important preventive strategies include proper nutritional advice, good personal oral hygiene and use of fluoride products.
Avoid foods and drinks which are high in sugar like sugar-coated biscuits and soft drinks. Have regular, healthy meals and try to cut-out between meal snacks. If you do need something extra, try fresh fruit. You will need to be diligent in removing food debris that gets trapped between teeth. Drink lots of fluoridated tap water because this will also assist in washing away food acids in the mouth.
Saliva is another ally which protects the teeth and helps fight acid. If the mouth is dry, drink tap water or chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva. Teeth are susceptible to decay in a dry mouth.
Regular visits to your dentist; proper brushing twice a day; daily flossing; and a healthy diet will help guarantee your teeth will be with you well into old age.