Plaque begins to accumulate on teeth within 20 minutes after eating (the time when most bacterial activity occurs). If this plaque is not removed thoroughly and routinely, tooth decay will not only begin, but flourish.
The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the tooth and create holes in the tooth (cavities). Cavities usually are painless until they grow very large inside the tooth and destroy the nerve and blood vessels in the tooth. If left untreated, a tooth abscess (pus enclosed in the tissues of the jaw bone at the tip of an infected tooth) can develop. Untreated tooth decay also destroys the internal structures of the tooth (pulp) and ultimately causes the loss of the tooth. Pulp refers to the softest part of the tooth that lies in its root and extends all of the way to the top part of the tooth (the crown). The pulp contains the blood vessels, the nerves and connective tissue inside a tooth, and provides the tooth's blood and nutrients.
Tooth decay is the disease known as caries or cavities. It is one of the most common disorders, second only to the common cold. It's also a highly preventable disease caused by bacteria and many contributing factors.
Tooth decay can occur when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as milk, soda, raisins, candy, cake, fruit juices, cereals and bread, are left on your teeth. Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change these foods, producing acids. The combination of bacteria, food, acid and saliva form a substance called plaque that sticks to your teeth. As a result, tooth enamel is destroyed over time, causing cavities.
We all host bacteria in our mouths, which means we all have the potential for getting cavities. Risk factors that put a person at a higher risk for tooth decay include:
- Diets high in sweets, carbohydrates and sugars
- Water supplies with limited or no fluoridation
- Poor oral hygiene
- Reduced salivary flow
- Age (children and older adults are at an increased risk for tooth decay)
With proper preventive care, such as regular checkups, brushing, flossing, fluoridation and dental sealants, the risk for dental disease can greatly be reduced.
Flossing daily and brushing twice a day will help get rid of plaque, the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease.
Clean white teeth, healthy gums and fresh breath usually are an indication of overall good oral health. If your dental health is poor, it can affect your overall health.