Dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay or cavities, is one of the most common and widespread dental issue today. Although caries is more common in children (because the enamel on the baby teeth is much thinner than that on permanent teeth), any person who has teeth can get dental caries.
Signs & Symptoms of Dental Caries
The signs and symptoms of dental caries vary, depending on their location and extent. During the early stages (when the caries are just beginning) there may not be any symptoms, but as the decay progresses, it may cause signs and symptoms like;
• Tooth sensitivity
• Tooth abscess
• Holes in the teeth
• Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something that is sweet, cold or hot
• Pain while biting/chewing
• Brown, black, or white staining on any surface of the tooth
Causes of Dental Caries
When sugar-containing foods are consumed and you forget to brush your teeth, decay-causing bacteria digest the sugar in the mouth, converting it into acids as a waste product. These acids attack the tooth starting from outer protective layer of the tooth (enamel) causing it to lose minerals. Repeated cycles of these ‘acid attacks’ continue into the underlying dentine minerals, and over time, it becomes weakened and collapses, forming a cavity. This cavity may eventually reach the nerve tissue at the center of the tooth if left untreated.
Risk Factors for Dental Caries
Any person who has teeth is at risk of getting dental caries. However, certain factors increase the risk.
• Poor oral hygiene routine, e.g. failing to brush and/or floss daily
• Consumption of too many sugary or acidic foods and drinks
• Acid reflux disease (can result in stomach acid wearing down the enamel)
• Fluoride deficiency
• Dry mouth (Xerostomia) caused by smoking, certain medications or by radiotherapy of oral cancers.
• Poor nutrition (can be due to eating disorders like anorexia)
How to Prevent Dental Caries
• Ensure regular dental checkups and cleaning
• Maintain a daily oral hygiene routine, i.e., brush teeth at least twice a day with fluoride paste and floss regularly
• Ensure proper nutrition.
• Limit snacking and sipping
• Avoid tobacco-based products
Treatment Options for Dental Caries
The kind of treatment depends on how severe the caries are. These treatment options include the following;
• Fluoride treatment: This kind of treatment is used to restore the mineral loss in enamel, especially in the early stages. A gel, liquid or varnish that contains more fluoride than that in tap water, mouth rinses and toothpaste is applied to the tooth’s surface.
• Tooth fillings: The dentist cleans the affected area of the tooth with a handpiece, removes the decayed material, and then packs the empty space with the appropriate dental filling material.
• Root canal: As the decay progresses through the enamel into the centre of the tooth, it may advance further and damage nerves, which are in the root. The dentist removes the damaged or dead nerve with the surrounding blood vessel tissue, cleans the area, and then seals it.
• Tooth extraction: If the tooth is damaged beyond repair, it is extracted to clear the infection in the bone surrounding the tooth. A partial denture, bridge or an implant should be inserted in the gap to ensure that the alignment of the remaining teeth is not affected.
• Crowns: These are used only when a large proportion of the tooth is destroyed. The dentist repairs the remaining tooth and then fits the tooth with an alloy or porcelain crown covering.