What is Dental Decay?


Dental Decay or Caries (to use it’s proper name) is caused by an in-balance in the mouth of too many sugars and ineffective brushes.


Bacteria within the saliva is deposited and grows on teeth and after 24 hours is thick enough to convert sugars in the acid which attacks the tooth and eventually will lead to a cavity.


If there are no sugars in the diet, decay will not form, but it is very hard to remove all sugars form the diet as sugars are present in pretty much all foods.


If all bacteria is removed from the teeth at least once a day, decay will not form. This requires thorough brushing of all areas of the mouth followed by flossing and interdental cleaning. This takes a little learning and setting aside some time each day but is much more achievable than no sugar.


These effects are more nuanced,  every time you eat some sugars, if mature bacteria is present  on the teeth, they will be under attack for about 20 minutes before the saliva neutralises the acid.  So if you allow yourself a packet of sweets or bar of chocolate daily you teeth will be under attack for about 20 .


However if you eat the sweet treat slowly over the day the teeth will be under attack after each treat and so the same bar of chocolate or packet of sweets can cause  very different levels of damage depend on how it is eaten.


As I said above saliva will neutralise the acids, after which the saliva will allow the tooth to strait to re-harden and repair the tooth and so all of a sudden whether decay decay progresses to a cavity or the tooth stays healthy depends on whether there are more periods of healing over periods of attack.


The method by which teeth are attacked is via the acids produced, but we introduce many acids through our diet in the form of fizzy drinks (even diet drinks)  isotonic sports drinks and caffeinated energy drinks.  The drinks are very acidic, causing a lot of damage, if they contain sugar it is then a double whammy for the tooth.


The mouth contains a range of bacteria, only some of them are acid forming and damage teeth. However if your diet contains a lot of sugar, or conditions are regularly acidic because of drinks, the conditions suit these harmful bacteria which increase in numbers overwhelming the healthy bacteria. And so each time you have a sugar hit more damage is caused by the bad bacteria.


Healthy saliva can buffer the acids to neutralise them, saliva also contains minerals that will allow the tooth to re-harden, remineralise and repair.  So to is important to have healthy saliva flow, if we feel there is a problem with the saliva we can test for this.


Research has shown how much saliva flow increases around meal times and so a simple hack is to include any sugary foods at a meal and keep any between meal snack healthy.


If dental decay is allowed to progress, eventually a cavity will form, at this point we will need to remove the decayed tooth and place a filling to restore the tooth.  But it is really important to understand a filling only treats the effect of a filling, dental decay cannot be treated with the drill. 


To treat Dental Decay we much change the balance in the mouth so that the conditions are more tooth repair than tooth damage. And that means brushing better, eating better and reducing acid hits to the tooth.