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Ben Wilcox
Ben is the practice principal at Shore Dental, Sydney. He graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2004 and…

Ask-A-Dentist: What are dental caries?

December 30, 2013 by Ben Wilcox

Dental Caries

Image via Shutterstock.

When looking up advice on dental hygiene, it's easy to get caught up and lost in the tome of jargon relating to the world inside your mouth. Here at Shore Dental we're trying to normalise tricky terms and make them a  normal part of your vocabulary in order to make visiting the dentist a lot easier for you!

First for this series is dental caries, otherwise known as tooth decay. Caries is a common disease which causes cavities and discolouration of both permanent and “baby” teeth. While this is a common disease, without proper treatment it can lead to weakened teeth and damaged nerves.

Dental caries occur when the bacteria in the mouth makes acid which then dissolves the tooth. This bacteria is only produced when exposed to sugar. Therefore, in order to reduce the risk of dental caries, it is important to follow a sensible diet that is low in sugar. You can also prevent decay by:

  • Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly and carefully to reduce the amount of bacteria on their surfaces.
  • Brushing your teeth using fluoride toothpaste, which will make the surfaces of your teeth more resistant to acid.
  • Limiting your intake of sugary foods or drinks.

Having a good flow of saliva is vital in defending against decay, as the acid created by bacteria can be neutralized by saliva. Thus, a reduced flow of saliva, also known as dry mouth, can increase the risks of decay. If you find you have a constant dry mouth, you should consult your dentist to find the cause and work out a solution.

When it comes to the amount of sugar in your diet, when it comes to dental hygiene it is definitely more important that you should limit the frequency over the amount of sugary food you consume in your diet. Other ways to reduce the effects of sugar are:

  • Rinsing your mouth with water after having sugary food or drink.
  • Eat a small amount of cheese. Research has shown that cheese helps to bring the pH of your mouth to a normal level after eating sugary foods.
  • Chewing sugarless chewing gum may help stimulating extra saliva production.
  • Lower your caffeine intake – caffeine has a drying effect.
  • Quit (or limit) smoking. Smoking changes the saliva to a more harmful consistency, lowering its ability to protect the teeth against decay.

While dental caries may sound daunting, in its early stages it is easily reversible. The minerals that are taken away from your tooth by acid can be re-deposited onto the surface of the tooth if you are able to modify your diet and oral hygiene. Your dentist will be able to professionally clean your teeth and treat areas of caries with topical fluoride, after which no other treatment may be required. More advanced areas of caries will require a filling, in which your dentist will remove the damaged and infected soft tooth structure and repair the tooth.

To schedule in your regular check up, call Shore Dental on (02) 8999 9505.