Tooth decay is a gradual process that begins on the outer surface of the teeth and can spread layer by layer into your teeth and down to their roots. Every time you eat, sugars and acids wear away your tooth enamel. Without proper oral hygiene, cavities can form, and the decay can eventually destroy the entire tooth.
Tooth enamel is the hard, outer surface of your teeth. Sugars and acids in food and beverages damage the enamel, but it can remineralize or rebuild itself. It is important not to brush your teeth too soon after eating, because you can actually cause more damage to the enamel by brushing before it has had a chance to rebuild. You should brush your teeth twice a day, and when you do, use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, and brushing removes food particles and bacteria. Flossing is equally important to remove food particles between the teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach.
Without regular brushing and flossing, tooth enamel can be permanently damaged. The enemy of tooth enamel is plaque, the sticky film that builds up when bacteria is allowed to remain on your teeth and gums. Plaque sticks to your teeth and can be hard to remove. Eventually plaque can turn to tartar, which is hard and has to be scraped off with special dental instruments. Brushing and flossing daily can prevent bacteria from spreading and becoming plaque.
Tooth decay is common in children and older adults, but it can occur at any age. The back teeth are the most susceptible, because they have flat, uneven surfaces that can be difficult to clean. Many parents choose to have their children get dental sealants at the dentist’s office, but adults who have never had sealants applied can get them too. Sealants are a plastic coating that is applied to the back teeth and blocks food particles and bacteria.
Eating a healthy diet with limited sugary snacks decreases the risk of tooth decay. In addition to regular brushing and flossing, regular professional dental cleanings can provide additional fluoride and ensure that your teeth and gums are thoroughly clean.