Tooth Decay is a Fact of Life.
Over the course of any person’s lifespan, some amount of decay is expected. However, the degree depends greatly on how well the teeth are cared for. With the right dental care, you can keep your decay minimal, saving you pain, money and possibly even teeth.
In this article, we’ll show you what causes tooth decay and how you can prevent it. In order to do this, we need to begin with an overview of how teeth are constructed—their anatomy.
The outer surface of your teeth – the white, bony surface you see when you smile – is the enamel. It's smooth and resistant to the effects of the acids in food or bacteria that grow in your mouth.
When this surface breaks down, your teeth become vulnerable. Enamel can be damaged when plaque is allowed to stay on your teeth. Plaque is a sticky coating that forms when bacteria are fed by sugars and starches you eat. When it's allowed to remain on your teeth for more than ten hours, it begins to harden and you won't be able to remove all of it yourself. It's this hardened plaque that your dental hygienist is scraping off when you have your teeth cleaned.
This plaque can attack the enamel of your teeth. The acids in the bacteria starting eating through it. This erosion of enamel permits bacteria to begin to attack the inner layers of your teeth, which we'll talk more about in a moment.
When plaque is removed during your regular dental hygiene, this damage is kept to a minimum.
The Dentin, Pulp and Nerve
If you've ever had a damaged or broken tooth and part of it looked pale yellow, you were looking at the dentin. This is the next layer below the enamel. Dentin is not as hard as the your tooth’s enamel. When the enamel of your teeth gets worn away or damaged, the dentin is exposed and you notice increased sensitivity to heat or cold.
Below the dentin at the innermost part of your tooth is the pulp. The pulp includes the nerve that runs down the root of each tooth. As the name suggests, pulp is not hard like the outer layers of the tooth. It is soft, composed largely of water and is well-nourished by both blood and lymph. As long as the pulp is alive, a tooth retains a fair amount of flexibility. If the pulp dies, the tooth becomes brittle.
How a Cavity Forms
As we mentioned, when plaque has eaten away enamel, other bacteria begin to attack the tooth. The first sign of damage is a white spot. When more minerals are lost from that spot, permanent damage develops – this damage is called a cavity. It's basically a hole in your tooth. At this point it must be repaired by a dentist.
The repair starts with drilling away the damaged area. Your dentist will make a clean space in your teeth that can then be filled. At StarBrite Dental, we fill this space with durable material that is the same color as your teeth. The goal is to create a filling that lasts for years and looks exactly the same as the rest of your tooth.
If this decay is not repaired but is allowed to progress long enough, bacteria can eat through all hard layers of your tooth and attack the pulp. If this happens, your dentist must do what’s called a “root canal.” This cleans the pulp out completely, all the way through the nerve channel exiting the root of the tooth. The pulp is then replaced with clean, long-lasting materials.
It is far easier to prevent tooth decay than repair it afterwards. We can always fill a cavity or do a root canal to fix it, but it’s best to take care of the tooth beforehand.
How is This Done?
Minimizing tooth decay is simple. Brush your teeth at least twice every day to clean away plaque before it hardens. This is very important. Additionally, minimize your consumption of sugars and starches and never leave sugar on your teeth for an extended period of time.
Lastly make sure you visit the dentist to get your teeth cleaned twice per year. This will give us the opportunity to clean off the hardened plaque that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to remove. This goes a really long way to preventing tooth decay before it starts. Additionally, regular checkups will give us the chance to see if you’re developing any minor cavities and do something about them before they turn into real problems.