Dental Caries is the scientific name for the disease process which can lead to tooth decay and cavities.
How does it occur?
Our mouths are home to many different types of bacteria, which, when we are healthy, are in balance. When we eat and drink, bacteria build up and form a biofilm (known as plaque) on the teeth.
Fact: Plaque forms most easily where there is no smooth surface and can be found most commonly in cracks, around fillings or other dental work, between teeth and near the gum line.
This plaque feeds on carbohydrates and starches in the foods that we eat, and as a by-product it produces acids which in turn attack the enamel on our teeth, leading to demineralisation.
Our teeth can then naturally ‘remineralise‘ when they have the right conditions (our saliva can help with that!) meaning that this doesn’t necessarily need to lead to a problem. However, if this demineralisation happens faster than our teeth can recover from it, this is where the caries process begins.
Caries is classified into three stages:
Initial-Stage Caries: The acids begin to dissolve the minerals in the hard enamel layer that covers the teeth, creating damage underneath the surface of the teeth. If identified early and a remineralisation treatment is undertaken, caries at this stage can be reversed.
Moderate-Stage Caries: As acid continues to erode the teeth, microscopic pits in the surface of the enamel can form, and then quickly grow as they continue to erode along with the damaged enamel underneath and can begin to seep into and damage the dentin layer underneath. This stage is particularly risky for exposed roots of teeth, as they are coated in a thin outer layer (not enamel) and therefore are very susceptible to decay.
Extensive-Stage Caries: When the outer layers of the teeth are damaged, acid can then seep through into the softer dentin layer of the tooth. As the dentin and enamel break down, a visible cavity is created. If not properly treated, the decay in the dentin will continue to worsen and will eventually get into the tooth’s inner layer, which contains nerve fibres and can lead to extreme pain and result in the need for invasive treatment such as a root canal.
How do I know if I have it?
The early stages of caries are often painless and can only be identified by regular dental examinations. If you experience pain or sensitivity when chewing or from hot, cold or sweet foods or drinks, contact your dentist.
If extensive-stage caries is not properly treated, the decay in the dentin will continue to worsen. Eventually the decay will get into the tooth’s inner layer, which contains nerve fibres. At this stage you might experience extreme pain and may then need invasive treatment such as a root canal.
How do I prevent it?
In order to stop caries in its tracks you should consider following these four simple steps.
- Balance the levels of bacteria in your mouth by brushing twice a day to reduce the buildup of plaque.
- Minimise the amount of acid produced by plaque by reducing the frequency at which you consume sugary and starchy foods.
- Increase the strength of your teeth by using a fluoridated toothpaste to help strengthen and remineralise the enamel on your teeth.
- Enhance your protection levels by seeing your dental team for regular check-ups. They will offer you personalised advice on further preventive measures you can put into place to protect your teeth.