Tooth decay is extremely common, and most people will have had at least one filling by the time they reach adulthood. Although tooth decay generally occurs in children and young adults, and is one of the most common reasons younger people lose teeth, it can affect any one at any age. It’s something we see all too frequently in our Leeds surgery.
The reason it develops is down to the presence of plaque bacteria in the mouth. Everyone has these bacteria, and they live off food particles left in the mouth after eating. You can sometimes feel a sticky film over the teeth before brushing at the end of the day, and this is the plaque biofilm that is removed through brushing and flossing.
One of the most common sites for plaque is right at the back of the mouth, just above the gumline, and around the edges of fillings that may be slightly rough. Plaque begins building up on the teeth within half an hour of eating, and if not thoroughly removed will result in tooth decay. The reason for this is that plaque produces acids which will attack the enamel covering your teeth, and this process begins in as little as five minutes after eating.
The acid causes a process called demineralisation to begin. This means essential minerals, such as phosphate and calcium are leached out of the enamel with the effect of softening it. At this stage your tooth enamel is more vulnerable to developing cavities as this acid erosion can lead to permanent loss of tooth enamel. The pH levels in the mouth remain acidic for at least half an hour after eating, before gradually returning to normal. At this stage a process call remineralisation begins.
The minerals leeched out of the teeth during demineralisation remain in the saliva, and as the mouth becomes less acidic some of these minerals are re-deposited back into the tooth enamel, helping it to re-harden slightly. However, over time repeated acid attacks will gradually wear away the tooth enamel, leaving it more vulnerable to developing cavities.
Symptoms of early tooth decay can be easy to miss, but include noticing your teeth feel more sensitive to hot and cold foods, or that they may feel slightly achy after eating particular foods. Sometimes there may be visible signs of decay in the form of holes or pits in the teeth. Early intervention is part of the key to helping to prevent tooth decay.
This is one of the reasons why we recommend you visit our Leeds City Dentalcare at six monthly intervals for a check-up. Dr David Brown, or another of our skilled dentists will be able to detect any early signs of tooth decay. They’ll do this by probing the tooth very gently to discover if the enamel is softer, or may take dental x-rays to identify small pockets of decay in hidden areas such as the contact areas between the teeth. Early detection means they can be treated far more easily. You’ll keep more of your tooth structure, treatment will be quicker as any fillings will be smaller, and it’ll be cheaper.
Watching your diet can also help, as frequent snacking will increase the number of times your teeth are exposed to acid. Eating sticky foods such as crisps and biscuits will also increase your risk. If you want a snack in between meals then try to aim for more tooth friendly foods such as cheese or crunchy vegetables.