Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth structure and can affect both the enamel (the outer coating of the tooth) and the dentin layer of the tooth.
Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as breads, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris, and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of tooth decay. These include:
Eating food and drink high in carbohydrates, particularly snacking regularly between meals, will increase your risk of tooth decay.
Tooth decay is often associated with sweet and sticky food and drink – such as chocolate, sweets, sugar and fizzy drinks – but starchy foods – such as crisps, white bread, pretzels and biscuits – also contain high levels of carbohydrates.
Some medications can also contain sugar, so it’s best to use sugar-free alternatives whenever possible.
Poor oral hygiene
If you do not regularly brush your teeth and clean between them with floss or an interdental brush, you are at a higher risk of tooth decay. You should brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
Smoking and alcohol
People who smoke and drink alcohol regularly are at an increased risk of tooth decay.
This is because tobacco can interfere with production of saliva, which helps keep the surface of your teeth clean, and alcohol can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel.
People who have lower levels of saliva in their mouth are at higher risk of developing tooth decay, because saliva helps to keep the surface of your teeth clean and can neutralise acids in your mouth.
A number of medicines, medical treatments and health conditions can lower the amount of saliva in your mouth, including:
tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) antihistamines some antiepileptic medicines some antipsychotic medicines beta-blockers radiotherapy
Sjogren’s syndrome – a condition where the body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands
If you are taking a medicine, receiving treatment, or have a medical condition known to cause dry mouth, it’s particularly important to maintain good oral hygiene and ensure you stay well hydrated.
To prevent tooth decay:
Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Preferably, brush after each meal and especially before going to bed.Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or interdental cleaners, such as the Oral-B Interdental Brush, Reach Stim-U-Dent, or Sulcabrush.Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks. Avoid carbohydrates such as candy, pretzels and chips, which can remain on the tooth surface. If sticky foods are eaten, brush your teeth soon afterwards.Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay. Drink fluoridated water. At least a pint of fluoridated water each day is needed to protect children from tooth decay.Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exam.
A mouth rinse containing fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.