Patients who come in to see us for x-rays and a check-up often tell me, “I feel like I’m taking a test, did I pass?”. (I guess it is called a dental “exam”, after all). I think an important part of passing the exam is understanding the process of tooth decay. Hopefully, this cheat sheet will help you pass your next visit with flying colors!
To start, the tooth is made of three different layers: enamel, dentin, and pulp. The outermost part of the tooth that you can see is Enamel. It is the hardest part of the tooth. In fact, it’s the hardest tissue in the body, making it difficult for bacteria and decay to penetrate it. The second layer, Dentin, is softer and more porous. Because of this, when decay reaches this layer, it quickly worsens and requires a filling. The final layer is the nerve or Pulp. When decay comes close to or penetrates the pulp, you often experience pain the form of a “toothache”.
So how does bacteria penetrate this very hard Enamel layer to cause cavities? Bacteria naturally occurs in the mouth to break down sugars in food that we eat. These bacteria release acids which can create holes in your teeth over time. We, dentists, call these holes cavities. In addition, every time we eat, our mouths become more acidic, which accelerates the decaying process.
This seems like a losing battle, doesn't it? Do not fear, for there is hope! Use this cheat sheet we at Go Dental in Valencia developed to prevent and even reverse tooth decay.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps to reduce the activity of bacteria. In addition, it has a very important role in reversing small cavities that have formed. If the decay only reaches the enamel, fluoride replaces some of it and can prevent the decay from worsening. Oftentimes, these teeth may not need fillings and can be “watched” to see if the decay progresses. Mouth rinses and toothpastes that contain Fluoride should be used regularly.
Eating frequently reduces the pH in our mouths and provides a more favorable acidic environment for bacterial acids to cause decay. By avoiding several meals a day, there is less time for these acids to break down tooth structure. Coffee, sugary drinks and sodas (including diet) should also be consumed around meal times, instead of slowly sipped throughout the day.
Floss and Brush
Flossing once a day and brushing at least twice mechanically removes bacteria and sugary foods from the tooth surface. These actions disrupt the bacteria from forming plaques onto the tooth and prevent acids from penetrating teeth.
Visit your dentist regularly
An important part of health care is diagnosing problems at an early stage. Cavities that are in Dentin (and therefore no longer reversible) should be treated early before they become toothaches or require larger, more expensive treatments. Early decay can be kept at bay with the proper maintenance and we, at your Valencia dentist, are here to help with that.