Let’s talk about tooth decay (dental caries)
By Dr Brighton Chireka
Tooth decay is our discussion today. I do listen to your feedback about the size of some of my articles. It’s difficult at times to make them short as there is a lot to cover. I have tried to compile a short and precise article on tooth decay. As usual I welcome your comments so keep them coming.
Tooth decay is a common problem that occurs when acids in our mouth dissolve the outer layers of our teeth.
It’s estimated that around one in every three adults in England have tooth decay and a survey of five year old children carried out in 2012 found that more than one in four had some degree of tooth decay. Of great concern is the decay in the five year olds as they do not buy food but are provided for by parents. As parents we must ask ourselves as to what foods are we giving these kids.
A study in Zimbabwe by Brighton Tasara Mafuvadze et al concluded that there was a high prevalence of dental caries among 12 years old school children in both urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe. They called for early preventative strategies and treatment services . They also recommended the incorporation of oral health education in the elementary school curricula.
Signs and symptoms of tooth decay
Tooth decay may not cause any symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage. As the problem develops, symptoms of tooth decay can include:
tooth sensitivity – you may feel tenderness or pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold or sweet
grey, brown or black spots appearing on your teeth
an unpleasant taste in your mouth
If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to further problems such as a cavities (holes in the teeth) gum disease or dental abscesses (collections of pus at the end of the teeth or in the gums).
When to see your dentist?
Toothache is a warning that something is wrong and that you should visit your dentist as soon as possible. If you ignore the problem it may get worse, and you could end up losing a tooth.
Even if you don’t have any noticeable problems with your teeth, it is still important to have regular dental check-ups so your dentist can check for early signs of decay. Tooth decay is much easier to treat in its early stages.
Adults over 18 should have a check-up at least once every two years and people under the age of 18 should have a check-up at least once a year. Your dentist may suggest having more frequent check-ups if you have had a history of dental problems, or you are thought to be at a higher risk of developing tooth decay.
What causes tooth decay?
Your mouth is full of bacteria that combine with small food particles and saliva to form a sticky film known as plaque.
When you consume food and drink high in carbohydrates – particularly sugary foods and drinks – the bacteria in plaque turn the carbohydrates into energy they need, producing acid at the same time.
If the plaque is allowed to build up, the acid can begin to break down the outer surface of your tooth and can eventually enter and damage the soft part at the centre of the tooth.
How to prevent tooth decay
Although tooth decay is a common problem, it is often entirely preventable. The best way to avoid tooth decay is to keep your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
To do this, you should:
brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day, spending at least two minutes each time
use floss or an interdental toothbrush at least once a day to clean between your teeth and under the gum line
avoid rinsing your mouth with water or mouthwash after brushing because this washes the protective toothpaste away – just spit out any excess toothpaste
cut down on sugary and starchy food and drinks, particularly between meals or within an hour of going to bed.
Remember that brushing your teeth as directed and cutting down on sugary foods will help you to reduce the problems of tooth decay . Stay healthy and stop the bad breath!
This article was compiled by Dr Brighton Chireka, who is a GP and a Health Commissioner in South Kent Coast in the United Kingdom. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and can read more of his work on his blog at DR CHIREKA’S BLOG
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health-care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. Views expressed here are personal and do not in any way, shapes or form represents the views of organisations that Dr Chireka work for or is associated with.