Dental & Oral Health

Tooth Decay - What Is My Risk?

Written by
Dr. Akmal Abdelmalek
and medically reviewed by Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published on Mar 25, 2020   -  4 min read

Tooth Decay - What Is My Risk?

You are probably reading this article because you have cavities in your mouth or have been struggling with tooth decay for many years and want to put an end to this problem. Or perhaps, you have a young toddler whose teeth seem to be dissolving away and get rotten as soon as they come through into their mouth. If you are wondering “why me?” read through the following lines as I unfold the reasons that increase your risk for tooth decay and outline the steps to take to minimize your risk of developing new cavities and even cure tooth decay in its early stages if you or any of your loved ones happen to develop any.

What Is Tooth Decay and How Does It Occur?

Tooth decay also referred to as dental caries, is one of the most common diseases throughout the world. It is an infection caused by the bacteria in the mouth, turning sugar in food and drinks into organic acids. These acids gradually dissolve and damage your teeth causing cavities or tooth decay. Tooth decay symptoms often begin with a white spot lesion on the tooth surface, usually near the gum line. Left untreated, this white spot can become a hole or cavity that stains yellow-brown or black from food and drinks.

If the cavity is not treated, the decay can get deeper into the tooth and cause pain (toothache), and if it reaches the pulp, the inner core layer containing the nerves and blood vessels that supply the tooth with nutrients, the pain may become unbearable disturbing your sleep and there is a risk of developing a tooth abscess.

Am I at Risk of Tooth Decay?

Obviously, no one is immune to tooth decay and everyone’s teeth are susceptible. Whenever you chow down a meal or grab a bite or have a sweet drink, your teeth are attacked by acids produced by plaque bacteria acting on the sugar you have just consumed. This attack usually lasts up to 30 minutes after eating. However, the good news is that recovery usually ensues after that and any small damage to tooth enamel, the hardest outer layer of the tooth, begins to repair with the help of minerals from your saliva and fluoride in water and toothpaste.

It is now clear that the most important risk factor in developing tooth decay is your dietary habits. Not only what you eat or drink but also how often too. Research into dental caries proves that the most important factor in caries development is sugar (sucrose) in the diet with the frequency and form of intake being more important than the amount. Thus your risk for tooth decay is greatest if you consume sugar frequently in a form that tends to adhere to the teeth.

Other factors to consider when looking into your risk for tooth decay include the quantity and quality of your saliva, oral hygiene habits, and regular use of fluoridated products such as toothpaste and mouthwashes. People with reduced salivary flow or a dry mouth as a side effect to medications or for any other reason have a greater risk of tooth decay as they lose the protective role of saliva.

How to Reduce the Risk of Tooth Decay?

Knowing how tooth decay develops and what factors contribute to its development, one can reduce their risk of decay if they could control these factors:

  • Watching what you eat is a good starting point.
  • Avoid snacking and grazing to limit the number of times your teeth are under attack from acids.
  • Consume less chocolate, sticky sweets, juices, and other soft drinks, as they are high in sugar and not tooth-friendly.
  • You may have diet fizzy drinks, as they do not contain sugar but keep in mind that they are high in their acid content and if consumed in large amounts can dissolve away the enamel and still cause damage to your teeth.
  • Opt for healthy and nutritious consumables that are low in sugar or even better sugar-free, and watch for added and hidden sugar in canned and processed food items.
  • Another good way to reduce your risk of tooth decay is to brush your teeth thoroughly, the inner surfaces as well as the outer and biting ones, at least twice a day, once at bedtime before you go to sleep and another time when you wake up in the morning, with a fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Fluoride is well known for its anti-cariogenic (tooth decay reducing) properties. It promotes repair of damaged enamel (remineralization) and strengthens tooth structure making it more resistant to acid dissolution.
  • Make sure that you use additional cleaning aids such as, interdental brushes and dental floss to clean areas between your teeth, which an ordinary toothbrush can not reach, at least once a day.
  • To benefit from the protective buffering capacity of saliva, tell your doctor if you have a dry mouth and chew sugar-free gum to increase your salivary flow.
  • Finally, if you have a young child and you want to protect their teeth from tooth decay, avoid long feeding periods, sweetened drinks or fruit juices in the bottle, sweetened dummy, and bottle left with the child at night, since acids forming in the mouth of a sleeping child are washed away at a slower rate.
  • It is also a good idea to ask your dentist to place a special adhesive layer called fissure sealant on the back teeth, the permanent ones when they come into your child's mouth to protect them from decay.

How to Reverse Early Lesions?

To reverse the early lesions or the white spots on your teeth and make them heal, you can ask your dentist to place concentrated fluoride varnish or gel on your teeth, usually twice a year, or have a toothpaste containing a higher concentration of fluoride (about 5000 ppm) and apply it to the lesions twice a day for a few minutes after you brush your teeth with your usual fluoridated (1500 ppm) toothpaste, then spit out the excess but do not rinse your mouth.

This also strengthens your teeth and makes them more resistant to further decay. You can also use a daily fluoride mouth rinse at bedtime as an alternative to the high fluoride toothpaste.

For more information, consult a dentist online!


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Last reviewed at:
25 Mar 2020  -  4 min read


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