Tooth decay can happen to anyone, regardless of age. In fact, tooth decay is one of the world’s most common health problems. So what is tooth decay? Why does this happen? How can this be prevented?
As the Mayo Clinic summarizes, here is what you need to know about cavities:
What is a cavity? And is it really that serious?
Also known as tooth decay or caries, a cavity occurs when small openings or holes develop on the hard surface of teeth. This is permanent damage to the tooth and, if left untreated, only grows larger and develops deeper within the tooth. This damage can lead to further problems (such as severe toothache, infection, and even tooth loss).
Yikes. Why does this happen?
Tooth decay is a process. To start, plaque builds up on the tooth. Bacteria feeds on this clear, sticky tooth coating (aka sugars and starches that have not been properly cleaned away).
Next, acids in the plaque erode the tooth’s surface by creating small holes. Once this erosion begins on the top layer, bacteria can more easily eat away at the next layer of the tooth (called dentin), especially because this layer is less resistant to acid.
Finally, if left untreated, the bacteria will continue to eat away at the tooth’s layers. If bacteria reaches the pulp (the inner tooth layer that contains nerves), you are in for some serious pain. If the pulp is swollen and irritated by the bacteria, so too are the nerves within this layer.
Okay so, how can I prevent cavities?
A series of risk factors for cavities exist—and yes, younger or older age is one of them. Other risk factors include: certain foods that our saliva does not easily wash away (such as milk, honey, sugar, hard candy, dry cereal, and more), insufficient brushing, heartburn, dry mouth, and others.
Most importantly, adults and kids alike should maintain a regular routine for their oral care. Daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental checkups are essential.