Untreated tooth decay is a massive problem for children and adults alike.
One third of Australian adults have this condition, caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in their mouth. Even worse: it seems we’ve passed down our poor dental habits to younger generations too.
What’s the most common chronic disease for Australian children?
You guessed it: tooth decay.
This might not seem like a huge deal, beyond the prospect of getting a filling to fill a cavity.
However, untreated tooth decay can actually make existing health conditions worse. And we’re more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis (many people are surprised to learn there’s a connection there).
This article tells you how to prevent tooth decay.
But first: What is tooth decay (also known as dental caries)?
Tooth decay occurs when certain types of bacteria form an acidic plaque that erodes the protective enamel on teeth. When this happens, teeth are then vulnerable to holes and cavities that cause pain and infection.
Dental caries are largely caused by a bacteria called mutans streptococcus.
It’s easier for children to develop cavities, because the enamel on their teeth is a lot softer than it is for adults.
The good news:Tooth decay can be resolved when treated in time. And if you take good care of your oral health, it can be prevented from developing in the first place.
Mild tooth decay usually starts as a white spot near the gum line, which turns into a hole or cavity if it’s ignored (this is usually treated with fillings). If your dentist catches the problem early, they will be able to use a non-invasive solution, such as a fluoride treatment or sealant.
However, without dental intervention, this decay spreads further inside the tooth, causing an abscess (infection) or severe pain. Before long, dental caries can lead to gum disease, tooth loss or infection inside the tooth pulp. This may require a root canal or another invasive procedure to fix.
Tooth decay symptoms (examples of what it may look and feel like):
A dull white spot near the gum line (first stage) Toothache Sensitive teeth Discomfort when consuming hot or cold food and drinks Painful biting Bad breath Holes or pits in the teeth (also called cavities) Discoloured spots on teeth (brown, grey or black)
A tooth that’s yellow-brown or black (later stages of decay)
The tooth looks like a brownish-black stump (advanced stages) What causes tooth decay? (some of the most common causes)Poor oral hygiene (not cleaning teeth properly): Half of all Australians don’t brush their teeth twice a day, which means they’re more likely to develop tooth decay. This occurs when food particles become trapped in the mouth.
Excess sugar: Certain types of bacteria actually help to fight decay – but these good bugs can’t do their job when we stress them out by consuming too much sugar and not cleaning our teeth properly.
Cavities are contagious: The bacteria mutans streptococcus is contagious, which means it’s possible to spread tooth decay from one person to another through activities such as sharing utensils, or even blowing on your baby’s food to cool it down.
Smoking increases the risk: Smokers are more likely to experience a buildup of bad bacteria (tartar and plaque) on their teeth, which leads to tooth decay. This is largely down to tobacco.
Inhalers or puffers: Asthma medications that contain acidic powder can weaken tooth enamel, if teeth aren’t properly cleaned twice a day.
How to prevent tooth decay:
Good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time, and floss regularly too. It’s a good idea to use toothpaste with fluoride, especially one with the ADA Seal of Approval on the label (this means it has been rigorously tested). Use a children’s toothpaste for young children, as it contains lower fluoride levels.
Don’t eat too much sugar: Cut down on your consumption of sugary foods, but if you do indulge, make sure you rinse your mouth well soon after (and brush properly when you get home).
Keep your germs to yourself: Avoid sharing food and utensils with other people, even your own children. Make sure you cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, and be mindful of other people (especially if you have dental caries).
Visit your dentist regularly: It’s important to visit your dentist at least once a year, to catch any mild decay before it spreads and becomes harder and more expensive to treat. Please note, the federal government is offering eligible families up to $1000 for basic dental services for children aged between two and 17 (this covers two years).
Book an appointment with North Square Dental in North Kellyville:
Our experienced team values every patient, and we go out of our way to deliver the best treatment options. Call us on (02) 8213 7455 or fill out our contact form to find out more.