Dental caries, commonly referred to as tooth decay or cavities, are the most common form of dental disease we encounter. In addition to being the most common, it’s also the most preventable and treatable. If you suspect you may have dental caries, this article will help you know for sure, how to prevent them, and what treatment options are available.
How To Spot Dental Caries
There are two locations you can develop caries:
- On the top of the teeth in between the hard ridges. These types are known as occlusal caries. You can spot them by looking for dark brown spots along the creases of the nooks and crannies at the top of a tooth.
- On the surfaces in between teeth. These types are known as interproximal caries. Similar to an occlusal, interproximal caries can be visually identified as dark or brown patches along the tooth surface in between two teeth.
For the average person, there is a risk for misidentifying dental caries as simple staining due to regularly consuming dark liquids such as coffee or smoking. When in doubt, check with a dental professional, especially if you’re experiencing tooth pain.
Factors That Cause Dental Caries
Bacteria is always present in your mouth, and when the bacteria on your teeth come into contact with and digest sugars, those bacteria consume the sugar from the leftover bits of food in your mouth, leaving acidic waste as a by-product. The acid is what damages your teeth, causing dental caries.
You can’t eliminate bacteria from your mouth, but some factors amplify the presence of acid that leads to dental caries. These factors include:
- Eating excessively sugary foods regularly. Again, bacteria feed on sugar. The more sugar you eat, the more acid the bacteria produce that could harm your teeth.
- Poor teeth brushing habits
- Poor flossing habits
- Lack of regular dental cleanings
- Consuming highly acidic foods regularly
Beyond risk factors from daily activity, there is growing evidence that genetics plays a part in how prone you are to developing them.
Tips to Decrease Your Risk of Dental Caries
For every problem, there is a solution. Just as there are factors that contribute to the creation of dental caries, there are things you can do to reduce your risk!
- Reduce your regular intake of sugary foods. The less sugar you give the bacteria, the less acid they produce.
- Brush your teeth twice a day. Brushing in the morning and the evening before bedtime reduces the number of food particles that remain inside the ridge creases on the top of your teeth, giving the bacteria less leftover food to consume.
- Floss at least once per day, preferably before bedtime. Flossing decreases the number of leftover food particles in between teeth, reducing the chance of forming interproximal caries.
- Visit your dentist twice annually for a thorough cleaning. Even with the best brushing and flossing habits, there can be dental areas that are hard to reach. Regular dental visits for cleanings ensure those hard-to-reach areas are thoroughly cleaned and allow a dental professional to examine your teeth for specialized recommendations.
- Reduce your regular intake of acidic foods. When the bacteria on your teeth are already producing harmful acids, it’s best to avoid foods that give them any help. WedMD.com provides a deeper explanation of acidic foods to help you decide which ones to avoid.
Treatment Options for Dental Caries
If you do develop dental caries, your best course is to seek the help of a dentist. Depending on the location and severity of the dental caries, a dentist will recommend a different procedure to cure your condition. These procedures typically include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Crowns: Patients who suffer from Occlusal Caries may receive a crown. Dentists will file down the damaged tooth and install an artificial crown over the remaining nub. A crown is typically made from metal, porcelain, or resin.
- Extractions: If the tooth is damaged beyond saving, the dentist will completely extract the tooth. Afterward, you may opt to leave the opening as it is or request dentures to fill the gap.
- Fillings: If the dental caries are small enough, the dentist may recommend a filling. During the procedure, the dentist will use a fine bit drill to remove the damaged enamel, leaving a clean hole. The hole is then filled in with damage-resistant material such as metal or resin.
- Root Canals: If dental caries degrade the surface of the tooth through to the pulp, the fleshy canal inside the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels, a dentist may recommend a root canal. In this procedure, the dentist drills a hole into the tooth, extracts the pulp, cleans the canal, and seals the area to prevent exposure to outside bacteria.
Of course, the best medicine is prevention. Use the tips above to reduce the risk of developing caries. If you take the extra steps to ensure a reduction of sugars and acids on your teeth, the risk of developing dental caries is lower.
However, if you have a high risk of dental caries due to stomach ulcers, diabetes, or other conditions, you can increase your protection with mouth rinses and tooth gels specifically designed to neutralize decay-causing acids and fix your decay problem at its source.