Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is an oral health condition that destroys or damages the outer surface enamel of the tooth and forms small pitting holes that may cause caries, dental abscesses, or even tooth loss. Tooth decay is one of the most common oral health problems. It is particularly more common in teenagers but can also occur in infants. This can be rectified by regular brushing, flossing, and routine dentist visits.
Ways Our Teeth Are Exposed to Sugar
Many causes may lead to tooth decay. Sugar is on the top of this list which converts to acids and weakens the tooth enamel, demineralizing it. This ultimately leads to tooth decay. The causes by which our teeth get exposed to sugar and other substances are the following:
*Poor oral hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly leads to the build-up of plaque that attacks and destroys the enamel.
*Plaque accumulation: Over time, if more and more plaque accumulates on the teeth, they convert the sugar present in the food to acids. This has harmful effects on the teeth forming small holes called cavities.
*Dry mouth: Another key point is having a dry mouth or a condition called xerostomia. Saliva helps wash out plaque and buffers the acid. In its absence, more bacteria develop, resulting in tooth decay.
*Eating and drinking sugary food and carbonated drinks: The leading cause of tooth decay is the intake of sugary food and fizzy drinks. Mainly after eating carbohydrates, its remains get stuck to your teeth. Even after brushing, there are still some food particles remaining that increase the chances of tooth decay. So it is advised to brush your teeth after eating or drinking fizzy drinks.
*Medical problems: Sometimes, when the head and neck are exposed to radiation, it can change the makeup of the saliva that promotes bacterial growth more than usual. This also causes tooth decay.
*Infant bottle feeding: Babies are bottle-fed at bedtime with milk, juice, or any other sugar-containing liquids that stick with their teeth overnight and aggravate decay-causing bacteria. This is called baby bottle tooth decay.
What Sugar Does to Your Teeth
It is a common saying that sugar is bad for your teeth. It has now also been proved by science that sugar intake, even through fruits, reacts with the bacteria residing in the oral cavity-causing plaque build-up. The bacteria living in the plaque convert the sugars present in the foods into acids. These acids attack and damage the teeth. This plaque can then convert to tartar if the teeth are not cleaned regularly. The presence of tartar can further help the decay-causing bacteria to increase, making them more challenging to remove. Generally, there are five stages of tooth decay, and they are as follows:
*Stage 1- Initial demineralization: The outermost layer of the teeth is called enamel. This is the hardest tissue and contains 94% minerals. During this stage, the outer protective layer enamel gets demineralized when it comes into contact with the acids. This produces plaque-containing bacteria that form a white spot lesion on the tooth. This is the initial sign of tooth decay.
*Stage 2- Enamel decay: Further, the enamel starts to break down, and the white spot turns brownish-black in color. Small pitting holes begin to form, leading to tooth decay or cavities, pus, and even tooth loss. The general dentist can fill in these holes or cavities.
*Stage 3- Dentin decay: Dentin is the hard tissue present just beneath the enamel. It is more resilient but fragile than enamel, and thus caries or any other infections spread faster. The progression of caries is faster here due to the presence of dentinal tubules. This leads to sensitivity in the tooth, which the patient experiences when taking cold or hot food or drinks.
*Stage 4- Pulp damage: The pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth. It contains nerves and vessels that are meant to keep the tooth healthy and nourished. It also provides sensation to the tooth. When the infection starts to spread here, it causes it to swell. The supporting tissues cannot accommodate this swelling, and thus pressure is applied onto the nerves. This eventually leads to toothache.
*Stage 5- Abscesses: Lastly, the bacteria spread the infection deep into the tooth, causing the formation of pus called abscesses. Tooth abscesses can travel to the jaw and cause swelling of the gums, face, and jaws; they can also cause fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Treatment for Tooth Decay
There are two types of treatments available. They are as follows:
Early-stage tooth decay:
Early-stage tooth decay is before any hole or cavity is formed in the tooth. This can be treated by:
*Reducing the number of carbohydrates that we take in, which can be in the form of sweets, fruits, or carbonated drinks.
*Brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day to keep the bacteria residing in the oral cavity in check.
*Going to your dentist who applies a fluoride gel or toothpaste on the affected tooth.
*Avoiding frequent bottle feeding babies at bedtime.
*Application of pit and fissure sealants on the affected tooth.
Late-stage tooth decay:
When there is a cavity or hole in the tooth, the treatments that can be given are the following:
*Root canal treatment can remove the dead, decayed part of the tooth by filling and restoring it to its normal function.
*Placement of a dental crown on the tooth after removing the damaged part.
*Removing the decayed part of the tooth entirely so that the infection does not spread to the rest of the tooth.
*Providing dental prosthesis like partial dentures in place of the teeth lost as a result of tooth decay.
*Making inlays and onlays for the affected tooth.
The intake of sugar is one of the significant causes that results in tooth decay. This can lead to dental caries or even tooth loss. If this is not treated beforehand, it can give rise to various complications. So it is advised by the dentist to brush regularly twice a day and not forget flossing afterward. It is also suggested to reduce the consumption of sugary food frequently.
*Can tooth decay be stopped?
Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at some point. This can be done by cutting short on the habits of taking high sugar-containing foods or drinks. It can also be done by rinsing your mouth or by using mouthwash regularly.
*How can you treat a decaying or decayed tooth?
It can be treated by root canals, fillings, placement of dental crowns, and using dental prosthetics after consulting with your dentist.