5. Dental Decay

Dental decay happens when the enamel and dentin of a tooth become softened by acid attack, producing a cavity.

What causes dental decay?
Dental decay is caused by plaque acids that gradually dissolve away the enamel and dentine of the tooth to produce a cavity. Dental decay is the same as tooth decay and is also known as ‘dental caries’. Decay damages your teeth and may lead to the tooth needing to be filled, crowned or even extracted.

What is plaque?
Plaque is a thin, sticky film that keeps forming on your teeth. It contains many types of bacteria.

Why do my teeth decay?
Decay happens when sugars in food and drinks react with the bacteria in plaque, forming acids. Every time you eat or drink anything containing sugars, the bacteria reacts with it to form acid. These acids attack the teeth and start to dissolve the enamel. The attacks can last for an hour after eating or drinking, before the natural salts in your saliva cause the enamel to ‘remineralise’ and harden again. It’s not just sugars that are harmful, other types of carbohydrate foods and drinks react with plaque and form acid. Snacking on sugary or acidic foods and drinks can increase the risk of decay as the teeth come under constant attack and do not have time to recover. It is therefore important not to keep snacking on sugary foods or sipping on sugary drinks throughout the day.

What are the signs of dental decay?
In the early stages of dental decay there are no symptoms, we may be able to spot an early cavity when we examine or x-ray your child’s teeth.

What happens if I don’t get it treated early?
Toothache is a sign that your child should see the dentist immediately, as it is a warning that something is wrong. If you don’t do anything, this will usually make matters worse, and your child may lose a tooth that could otherwise have been saved.

Is there anything I can do to protect my child’s teeth against decay?
The best way to prevent dental decay is by brushing the teeth thoroughly twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, making sure that you brush your child’s teeth the inner, outer and biting surfaces. Using dental floss helps remove plaque and food from between your teeth and gum line. These are areas a toothbrush can’t reach.

Also visit the dentist regularly, as often as recommended, and try not to give your child sugary and acidic food and drinks. Avoid giving snacks between meals as this limits the times the teeth are under attack from acids. You can give sugar free gum, preferably with Xylitol, for ten minutes helping the mouth to produce more saliva, which helps neutralise any acids which have been formed.