A topic which dental patients want to know more about is "cavities" or in dental terms, caries. This can get mildly confusing for patients because dentists have used the term cavities to denote many things, such as an existing filling, a hole in the tooth, or dental decay, to keep their conversations simple for patients to understand. In reality, the diagnosis of dental caries can be complex and confusing for a patient. In this article, Dr. Partrick will describe the concept of dental caries, the diagnosis and prevention of caries, and in very basic terms, will discuss what can be done in the event dental caries is diagnosed.
The term dental caries is used to describe the phenomenon of tooth decay. In a nutshell, for caries to arise requires three things: a tooth, dental plaque, and sugar. Sound simple? theoretically, if you remove one of these 3 things, dental decay cannot occur. Good luck removing sugar from the diet (more about this later)! Certainly, no one wishes to remove the tooth, unless the tooth is badly decayed, so one must rely on removal of the dental plaque to prevent dental decay.
Dental plaque is nothing more than oral bacteria coupled with a sticky film that adheres to teeth. These oral bacteria are living organisms that metabolize sugar (found in many foods/drinks) to produce acids that cause breakdown of dental enamel, and if not found early and controlled early will progress further into the tooth. A dentist makes the diagnosis of decay in two proven ways, instruments and bite-wing radiographs performed in the course of an examination. The dentist's instruments find "soft" tooth in all exposed areas of the tooth and the x-rays detect decay in places where dental instruments cannot reach.
Prevention of dental caries is quite simple; control the plaque, reduce the risk for caries. One should brush their teeth with an American Dental Association approved toothpaste, twice a day. Flossing once a day will help reduce the dental plaque, in areas where brushing is ineffective. For most patients, this is what they require to reduce their risk of decay. Certainly, there are exceptions such as whether the patient has been exposed to fluoride as a child, the fluoride concentration in the toothpaste, the total time dental plaque has been exposed to the tooth, etc. For example, if the patient was not exposed to a municipal fluoride (therapeutic dose) in the water supply, this patient will certainly have a higher risk of decay. A really easy way to prevent decay is to examine one's diet. For example fruit juices are really high in simple sugars. Kids can get less than routine with their oral care, and these beverages can eat a tooth away. Dr. Partrick is not proposing no sugar in the diet, just moderation.
If caries are diagnosed soon enough, there exist the possibility of halting their progression with good oral hygiene, as described above. If caries progress too far into the tooth, one form or the other of dental restoration, or "filling" will be required, and this is unfortunate because once decay tooth needs to be removed, there is no dental filling which is nearly as good as healthy tooth. Classically, no symptoms will accompany decay of a tooth, so it becomes very important to keep regular visits with Dr. Partrick to keep your teeth free from dental caries. Call Dr. Partrick today to schedule a dental exam and cleaning to discuss your risk for dental caries!