Your mouth contains millions of bacteria which build up on the teeth and gums. This bacterium multiplies to form a soft, sticky layer called plaque. Plaque uses the sugar in food and drinks to produce an acid which attacks the tooth surfaces, gradually dissolving the hard outer layer, called enamel. With repeated attacks, the enamel eventually breaks down and a hole, or cavity, will appear.
Once this decay reaches the dentine of the tooth it is irreversible and treatment is needed. Dentine is softer than enamel and decay spreads much quicker here.
Although sugar is a leading factor in dental decay there are other factors which may lead to decay, including:
- Saliva – Saliva is your body’s natural defence against decay. It acts as a buffer to remove sugar acids from the teeth and prevent decay. If you have a low flow of saliva it can lead to an increased risk of dental decay.
- Deep fissures – the groves on the biting surface of your teeth are called fissures. If you have particularly deep fissures it can lead to food packing and are often difficult to clean.
- Overhanging fillings, poorly fitting crowns, bridge or dentures – poorly fitting dental appliances and fillings will often lead to food packing around that area. As the area is often difficult to get to this can lead to decay in these areas.
How To Prevent It
At it’s earliest stage, tooth decay can be reversed through the use of fluoride. Once a cavity has formed, however, the damaged part needs to be removed and replaced. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and reducing the frequency of sugar intake will dramatically help. Refined sugars such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose and maltose should be particularly avoided where as the sugar alcohol Xylitol has been proven to help prevent dental decay.
Flossing and using a fluoride mouthwash will also help prevent decay between your teeth as brushing alone can’t clean here.
You should brush and use mouthwash twice daily and floss once a day.
Regular visits to the hygienist not only reduce plaque levels but also monitor how well you are keeping up with your brushing techniques.