Tooth decay is the single most common dental problem affecting Americans today. It is a leading cause of dental pain and the most noted reason for patients to visit their dentist for advice and support. You may hear your dentist use the terms ‘dental caries’ or ‘dental cavities’, but both of these mean that you have at least one tooth being affected by tooth decay.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is the destruction of the outermost layer of your teeth, known as the enamel, by a substance known as plaque acid. Plaque acids are created when bacteria within the plaque break down sugars in your mouth that are there as a result of eating and drinking. Enamel is usually very resilient, but if it is persistently attacked by plaque acids, it softens and eventually forms holes. These holes are known as cavities or caries and must be treated promptly after they form. Failure to do so can cause the decay to spread to surrounding teeth as well as penetrate even deeper into the original tooth, causing sensitivity and discomfort.

Eventually, if decay is allowed to reach the root of the tooth then you will almost certainly experience a toothache, especially when you eat or drink. The root, which carries to the tooth healthy blood vessels and nutrients, can become infected and the tooth will die.

Abscess formation is the final stage of tooth decay and by far the most painful. Once the bacteria pass into the root, it can put the conjoining bones at risk of infection. This increases the likelihood of tooth loss and other diseases as the infection passes into the bloodstream and around your body.

Causes of tooth decay

There are a variety of different things that contribute to the development of tooth decay. However, there is ultimately one key factor that determines whether someone is more likely to suffer from tooth decay, and that is their commitment to oral hygiene.

Brushing and flossing your teeth is the single, most important thing that you can do protect your teeth from decay, and failure to do this properly on a daily basis will mean that the plaque acids are not removed before they cause damage to your teeth. Flossing and using fluoride mouthwash also helps to remove bacteria and keep your teeth in great condition.