Tooth decay is an eventuality if you are a person who does not practice perfect oral hygiene from the day of birth. Even in that case, there are instances when genetics, medications, and lifestyle can lead to dental decay even if you are trying your best to prevent it. Dental decay is still a big problem in the USA despite the fact that we have so many dentists everywhere and access to dental care even if you can’t afford it. In fact, more than half of Americans over the age of 30 suffer from some form of periodontitis, a disease of the jawbone and gum line that begins with neglecting proper oral hygiene of basic brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash daily.
How Does Tooth Decay Begin?
We all have a soup of bacteria and saliva that is infested with polysaccharides and glycoproteins that all together form a biofilm on our teeth. This biofilm is called plaque. And, no, it is not a good kind of plaque that you hang on your wall to memorialize an award or accomplishment. This plaque is a nasty yellowish-gray film that will harden into tartar if it is not removed in 24-hours. This means that people who lapse even a little bit or who are not practicing full-service hygiene are building up layers of tartar every 24-hours. This tartar is a hardened gunk that cements itself onto our teeth and irritates the flesh along our gumline.
The bacteria in our mouth builds up in and grows in this porous material breeding ground to produce acids. These acids then start to soften our enamel and erode the strength of our teeth. The tartar essentially develops because the bacteria use the minerals in our saliva to build their colonies. Most of the time, this tartar gets stuck along the lower gum line. You are more likely to see cavities in lower teeth, especially molars. The tartar irritates the gums and starts to open up pockets for biofilm and bacteria to penetrate deeper into our gumline and bones.
How Do We Prevent Decay and Eliminate Tartar?
As stated above, getting rid of plaque and tartar involves comprehensive oral health care. If you miss even a day or do not clean an area well every day, you can start building up these bacteria that deteriorate our teeth, gums, and bones. The enamel becomes porous as the decay erodes the layers of the teeth and starts to harbor more bacteria. This is why people who have their teeth ground down to remove some enamel for aesthetics or other reasons must maintain excellent oral hygiene simply to prevent halitosis (bad breath). Using a quality soft toothbrush is vital to penetrating into the bacterial colonies and removing the biofilm effectively.
Using a mouthwash that contains peroxide is even better because it will kill bacteria. When you floss, you are helping to remove the food particles that get stuck up in your gums and between your teeth which fester with biofilm plaque. However, you must also remember not to brush too hard or too often because you may actually wind up removing enamel and making your teeth more susceptible. Eating acidic and sugary foods has an effect on speeding up the decay process and should be avoided. Not only does bacteria feed more easily off sugars, but the acids it produces also help break down your teeth faster when you eat bleached sugars and acidic colas that aid in softening the enamel. There is a veritable war going in your mouth every day.
The most effective method of undoing the previous sins of poor oral hygiene is by going to a professional dentist for a full cleaning. They can assess the quality of your oral health and determine if you are doing a good job or not. They will often use dental picks and even ultrasonic tools to remove tartar buildup. They will go deep under the gumline to flush out any build up that can deteriorate your jawbone structure. People who wear dental appliances may need an additional level of oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay and periodontitis.
Treatments for Teeth Damaged by Decay
Nowadays, the dental health field has become proficient at fixing teeth damaged by decay. They take X-rays and use 3D computer imaging to determine the scope of damage. They then will drill down the teeth until they get to the hard enamel material that has not been eroded and penetrated by acids of the bacteria. Because the bacterial colonies thrive in the rough pockets that they create in decaying teeth, the longer that you let tooth decay go, the deeper your dentist will have to drill.
Once the dentist has eliminated all the compromised parts of the tooth, he can use a plastic resin or amalgam to bond to the tooth as a filling. He can also order or use his own computerized CNC machine to make custom inlays that bond to the tooth and restore the full shape of it. Ceramic inlays are the only way of permanently fixing teeth with large fillings that are too brittle to withstand pressure without erosion.
In some cases, the bacteria has penetrated the tooth deep enough to infect the roots. In these instances, the tooth will need what is called a root canal. A root canal involves drilling deep into the center of the tooth and cleaning out the root canals with special files. This is followed by cementing an artificial tooth called a crown on top of the damaged one. The only other alternative is dental implants which uses titanium screws to attach artificial teeth called crowns as permanent replacements.