Tooth decay is another name for the disease known as “caries,” or cavities. A cavity is the result of your tooth enamel, dentin, or cementum being destroyed over long-term exposure to harmful bacteria.
Many cavities are preventable Tooth decay is promoted by your teeth being frequently exposed to foods rich in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda, candy, ice cream, milk, and cakes.
When these foods break down in your mouth, they provide food for the bacterial film on your teeth and gums called plaque. The plaque interacts with deposits left on your teeth from sugary and starchy foods to produce acids. These acids break down tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or demineralizing, the mineral structure of your teeth. This leads to tooth decay and weakening the teeth.
Plaque is a film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums after eating foods that produce acids. These foods may include carbohydrates (starches and sugars), such as candy and cookies, and starchy foods, such as bread, crackers, and cereal.
Tooth decay leads to cavities and occurs when plaque remains on your teeth for an extended period of time, allowing the bacteria to “eat away” at the surfaces of your teeth and gums. Ironically, the areas surrounding restored portions of teeth (where fillings have been placed) are particularly vulnerable to decay and are a breeding ground for bacteria.
In addition to causing cavities, plaque can lead to gum irritation, soreness, and redness. Sometimes, your gums may begin to bleed as a result of plaque accumulation. Long-term, plaque can lead to serious problems. Sometimes, the bacteria can form pockets of disease around tooth structures, eventually destroying the bone beneath the tooth.
Consistency of a person’s saliva also makes a difference; thinner saliva breaks up and washes away food more quickly. When a person eats diets high in carbohydrates and sugars, they tend to have thicker saliva, which in turn produces more of the acid-producing bacteria that causes cavities.
In regards to early childhood caries, avoid putting your baby or small child to sleep with a bottle containing anything but water, because juices and milk contain sugars that can be harmful to teeth. When a child sleeps, these liquids “pool” in the mouth and bathe the teeth.
Early childhood caries may occur when sweetened liquids, such as milk, formula, and fruit juice, are given and are left to pool in an infant’s mouth for long periods of time. Baby bottle tooth decay can lead to severe cavities in your child’s mouth, and destroy the teeth if left untreated.
Avoid allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle and avoid breast feeding at will after the first baby tooth begins to erupt.
Tips for cavity prevention:
- Limit frequency of meals and snacks.
- Help your child brush and floss regularly.
- Avoid sticky foods (fruit rolls and sticky dried fruit).
- Make treats part of meals.
- Choose nutritious snacks.
- Do not reward or bribe your child using candy or other unhealthy foods.
- Ask your doctor about medications that may cause a dry mouth. Saliva is necessary to wash away food.
- Some medications are high in sugar. Brush teeth after using them.
- Avoid high carbohydrate/sugary sports drinks or juices. Most fruit juices are high in sugar and low in nutritional value.
- Baby teeth are important as they not only hold space for permanent teeth but they are important to chewing, biting, speech and appearance.