Oct 04, 2015 News
Tooth decay, also called dental caries or cavities, is a major oral health problem in Guyana affecting both young and old.
If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss. In the olden days it was thought that tooth decay was caused by a worm in the tooth. We now know differently.
Our mouths are full of hundreds of different types of helpful and harmful bacteria that live on our teeth, gums and tongue. Some harmful bacteria live in plaque and use the sugars in food to make acids.
Over time the acids destroy the tooth to form cavities. The cavities can appear on the chewing surfaces of our molars, in between and on the smooth surfaces of teeth and on the root surfaces.
Sometimes the decay is very noticeable by way of a hole but other times it is hard to detect. It is important to note that tooth decay does not happen overnight – the process can take years.
Many people have tooth decay but they are not aware of it. A tooth has three layers.
The hard outer layer is called enamel, the middle layer is dentine and the center of the tooth is called the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. Just because the tooth is not hurting or there is no visible hole does not mean that decay is not occurring.
In fact, pain is usually a sign that the decay has progressed past the outer enamel layer and into the sensitive dentine area or worse yet, close to the nerves of the tooth.
When a tooth is exposed to acid frequently, the repeated cycles of acid attacks cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost.
This is a sign of early decay. Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at this point with professional cleaning and proper oral hygiene.
Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, and fluoride from toothpaste or other sources.
However, if the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity.
A cavity is permanent damage that cannot be reversed. At this stage the tooth needs to be cleaned and filled. As the decay progresses beyond the enamel into dentine the pain level also starts to increase.
Once decay reaches the pulp bacteria will infect the nerve and blood vessels causing them to die. Left untreated, the infection can reach the root tip and affect the bone around the tooth causing severe pain. There may be visible swelling on the cheeks and along the affected side. Your dentist will prescribe antibiotics and painkillers. At this stage, root canal therapy or extraction is the only option. A filling will not work!
To prevent tooth decay:
· Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Preferably brush after each meal and especially before going to bed.
· Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss.
· Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks. If sticky foods are eaten, brush your teeth soon afterwards.
· Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
· Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleanings.
It is important to remember that tooth decay is easily preventable and by having good oral hygiene and regular dental visits, early symptoms of tooth decay can be spotted and repaired before the damage becomes irreversible.
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