Tooth decay, also called dental caries, is a condition caused by bacteria eroding the enamel of the tooth. If the decay process occurs for long, it leads to cavities and tooth sensitivity. It is, therefore, important for parents to understand how to prevent tooth decay. Here is a highlight of what it takes to prevent tooth decay.
How Tooth Decay Occurs
Here is the process that causes tooth decay:
- Formation of plaque- Dental plaque is a thin film of clear, sticky, acidic substance that covers the enamel of our teeth. The presence of starch and sugar causes plaque to remain in the teeth. When the sugars aren’t cleaned off your teeth after meals, bacteria that are naturally present in our mouths start acting on it. The result is a layer of plaque on the teeth. If the plaque is not cleaned, it hardens and forms tartar above or under the gum line. Tartar is more difficult to remove and creates a habitat for bacteria.
- Plaque action on the tooth– Acids present in plaque erode minerals from the tooth’s enamel. The acid action causes the coating to soften. Tiny holes may develop, marking the first stage of formation of cavities. Once the enamel is eroded, the acid and bacteria can reach the next layer of the teeth, known as dentin. Dentin is softer than the enamel and is susceptible to damage by acid. The layer also has nerve endings. This means that acid action on the dentin causes tooth sensitivity.
- Destruction of inner layers of the tooth– When the bacteria and acid go past the dentin, they attack the next layer known as pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels and nerves. The result of acid action on this layer is irritation and swelling. As there is no space for expansion inside the tooth when swelling begins, pressure builds on the nerves. This results in pain. The pain might spread past the tooth to the entire jaw.
The signs of tooth decay vary depending on the stage of decay. It’s difficult to notice any signs during the early stages. As the decay continues, however, there may be apparent symptoms such as black or brown stains on the surface of the teeth and visible holes on the teeth. There might also be spontaneous pain and tooth sensitivity when eating sweet, cold, or hot drinks.
Everyone is at risk of having tooth decay, but the risk can increase due to the following factors:
- Consumption of certain foods and drinks. Foods that linger in our mouths for long expose our teeth to bacteria compared to foods that are easily cleaned out by saliva. These foods include ice cream, dried fruits, cakes, and chips. Having frequent bites of snacks throughout the day also causes bacteria to produce more acids. Carbonated drinks and alcohol, which contain high levels of acidity, also contribute to tooth decay.
- Location of the teeth. The teeth at the back of our mouths, molars and premolars, are at a higher risk of decay. They have multiple grooves and pits where food particles can accumulate. They are also harder to clean in comparison to the teeth at the front.
- Heartburn. Heartburn and similar conditions can cause acid to reflux to the mouth. This may cause the enamel to erode significantly.
- Dry mouth. Lack of saliva in the mouth means that food particles that accumulate in the mouth aren’t cleaned. This causes the formation of plaque. Saliva is essential because it counters the effect of acid in the mouth. Medications that reduce the amount of saliva in the mouth increases the risk of tooth decay.
Preventing Tooth Decay
Here are a few measures parents can take to prevent tooth decay in their children.
1. Use fluoride
Fluoride is an essential mineral in our oral health. It can prevent tooth decay, stop decay from progressing or reverse existing decay. This mineral protects our teeth by preventing mineral loss from the tooth enamel. Additionally, it replaces the minerals that have been lost through erosion. It also reduces the ability of bacteria in our mouth to make acid.
Your child can get fluoride by drinking water from the tap. Most of the water supplied by the community water supply is fluoridated.
Children are discouraged from only drinking bottled water because it doesn’t contain enough fluoride to prevent tooth decay. In such cases, where a child only drinks bottled water, the dentist should prescribe fluoride tablets.
Parents should also encourage the use of a fluoride mouthwash or apply a fluoride varnish or gel to the surface of the teeth.
2. Limit how often your child eats and the type of food they eat
Every time a child eats or drinks something rich in starch and sugars, bacteria act on the food substance and produces acid that eats away the teeth coating. While saliva can help prevent this form of decay, having frequent meals and snacks might make this problematic. This is because the food repeatedly produces acids, which means the teeth are continuously exposed to erosion. Eventually, the enamel loses minerals, and decay occurs.
Parents should limit snacks in between meals. This will reduce the acid that attacks the teeth, giving the enamel a chance to repair. Sugary foods and drinks should also be saved for special occasions. Bedtime feeding should also be avoided. Naturally, saliva flow in the mouth decreases when we sleep, so having food at bedtime risks the tooth to acid action overnight.
3. Make sure they brush properly
Children should brush with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day. Children under six years should be supervised to ensure they use the right amount of toothpaste and spit it out instead of swallowing. If a child cannot get the teeth cleaned on their own, a parent should help.
4. Dental sealants
Sealants are a plastic coating painted on the surface of molars to prevent food particles from getting stuck on the grooves of the teeth. This works great in preventing bacteria build-up that can cause decay.
5. Regular dental check-ups
For young children, dental visits are essential. The dentist will remove the existing plaque, check signs of decay, apply a fluoride gel, and show the child how to clean their teeth thoroughly.
Get in touch with us at Crescent Heights Dental Clinic to get expert assistance on tooth decay.