What are dental caries? Treatments, signs, and symptoms

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Dental caries, which is also referred to as tooth decay or cavities, is one of the most common and widespread persistent diseases today and is also one of the most preventable. When you eat certain foods, the bacteria on your teeth breaks them down and produces acids that have the ability to seriously damage the hard tissues of your tooth. The result is the formation of dental caries (cavities).

What Causes Dental Caries?

Typically, dental caries can be spotted on two specific areas of the teeth: occlusal caries, which form on the top most part of the tooth where food particles repeatedly come in direct contact with the teeth and interproximal caries, which are dental caries that form in between the teeth. It’s in these two locations where bacteria fester and pose a risk to your oral hygiene. If the teeth and surrounding areas are not cared for properly, the bacteria will begin to digest the sugars left over from food in your mouth and convert it into acids as a waste product. These acids are strong enough to demineralise the enamel on your teeth and form tiny holes—the first stage of dental caries. As the enamel begins to break down, the tooth loses the ability to reinforce the calcium and phosphate structures of the teeth naturally through saliva properties and, in time, acid penetrates into the tooth and destroys it from the inside out.

Dental Caries Treatments

Professionally, there are four main ways to deal with dental caries. These treatments carried out by a dental professional can help treat damage incurred from dental caries.

  • Fillings: Fillings are the most common form of treatment for the disease. A dentist drills into the affected area/s of the teeth, removes the decayed material inside the prepared cavity, and packs this empty space with an appropriate dental filling material. There are different types of filling materials that can be used, depending on the area where caries have occurred. Composite resin, the most common filling material in the developed world, has a great pallet of color which dentists can use to repair caries damage to teeth that are visible when you smile. In the case of back teeth cavity, some dentists prefer using other dental filling materials which are stronger.

  • Crowns: Crowns are another option for dentists when treating dental caries, and are only used when a large proportion of the tooth is destroyed by disease. When tooth decay leads to the need for large fillings, the tooth becomes more prone to cracks and ultimately breaking. The dentist would attempt to salvage the remaining tooth, repair it, and finally fit the tooth with an alloy or porcelain crown covering.

  • Root Canal: Another method of treatment a dentist may employ is called a root canal. As tooth decay progresses through the enamel and settles in the center of the tooth, it may even advance further and damage the nerves, which are in the root. A dentist would remove the damaged or dead nerve with the surrounding blood vessel tissue (pulp) and fill the area. The procedure usually ends with the dentist placing a crown over the affected area.

  • Extraction: In some cases, the tooth may be damaged beyond repair and must be extracted if there is risk of infection spreading to the jaw bone. The removal of some teeth may affect the alignment of those left in the mouth, so it is recommended that a partial denture, bridge, or implant be inserted in those edentulous areas.

How to Prevent Dental Caries

A few recommendations a dentist might make include:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes using fluoride rinse, paste, or gel.

  • Flossing regularly after brushing especially if you’re frequently eating or drinking sugary foods or drinks. Certain foods high in sugar can provide a consistent supply of damaging acid to the tooth hard tissues. Flossing once or twice a day can help you remove food particles from between the hard-to-reach areas of your teeth you might be missing.

Read and learn more about Tooth decay and Cavities at Oral-B India.