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Dental Decay Explained:

Dental decay, or caries, is the major cause of toothaches, so what exactly is it? It’s a behavioural condition brought about by bacteria in the presence of sugar. In simpler words, bateria present on our tooth surfaces produce substances damaging to our teeth every time we eat sugars. The damage is minimal each time, but accumulated over months and years, they turn into the cavities (holes) in our teeth.

Early decay is painless and often only detectable by your dentist. During the checkup, your dentist will look at the tooth surfaces, and sometimes take x-rays to help detect caries. Although painless in early stages, if they’re left to propagate, caries can cause pretty nasty toothaches later on. Treating early caries help to prevent such situations from happening.

So what causes decay? There are four major factors which contribute to dental decay: Time, tooth surface, bacteria and sugars.

Time and tooth surface are the two factors that is somewhat out of our control.

As for bacteria and sugars, the bacteria present on our tooth surface feed on sugars and release acids, which slowly breaks down our tooth structure.

Before looking at the types of decay that commonly occur, it is worth noting that dental decay is a normal occurrence and can be easily treated by your dentist. With any other dental condition, it is always best to catch the problem early and nip it in the bud. It is not only easier to treat, but also far less costly than complex treatments at a later stage. Hence you should visit your dentist for regular check-ups, and don’t be afraid to see a dentist for any small issues that you may have. 

Decay in adults most common happen on the biting surfaces, as well as on the surfaces where two teeth meet in between. This is mainly because the spaces in between teeth is most frequently missed during cleaning, which means that there will be an abundance of bacteria residing in that space, releasing substances damaging to our teeth. Flossing or tepe brushing is essential to prevent decay in between teeth. 

Another type of decay is more common in the elderly population: root decay. With age, the gums may recede to expose the roots of the tooth. The roots are softer than the top part of the tooth and more susceptible to decay.

So in summary

How can we control and prevent decay? The answer is easy: brush well and eat well.

Brush your teeth twice a day to remove the bacteria on your teeth, and reduce the frequency that you have those sweet treats.

A more detailed article on decay prevention will be available shortly. This article will elaborate on the sugars in our diet, and how we can tailor our diet to prevent decay. You can also refer to gum article for a more detailed description of the daily tooth-brushing regime.

Last but not least, certain conditions can increase the risk of developing dental decay. For example, conditions reducing saliva production (e.g. Sjrogen’s syndrome, radiotherapy to the head and neck) increases the risk of decay. Malformed teeth may also be structurally weaker and more susceptible. If you have been brushing your teeth well, following a healthy diet, but are still finding new caries each time you visit the dentist, it might be worth having a more detailed discussion regarding the causes of the decay. If an underlying condition is suspected, your dentist can help treat you or refer you to the right person who would be able to help.

For more information regarding decay prevention, please visit this decay prevention article. 

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About the Author

“Positive experiences in the dental setting goes a long way. I aim to provide quality dental care tailored to every patient’s individual needs.”

Dr Li Kexin

Dental Surgeon, NoFrills Dental

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