Tooth decay (destruction of tooth structure) is the disease known as caries or cavities. Tooth decay is one of the most common disorders, second only to the common cold. It's also a highly preventable disease caused by bacteria and many contributing factors. It can occur when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as milk, soda, raisins, candy, cake, fruit juices, cereals, and bread, are left on the teeth. Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change these foods, producing acids. The combination of bacteria, food, acid, and saliva form a substance called plaque that sticks to the teeth. As a result, over time, tooth enamel is destroyed, causing cavities.
We all host bacteria in our mouths which makes everyone a potential target for cavities. Risk factors that put a person at a higher risk for tooth decay include:
The following are the most common symptoms of tooth decay and dental caries. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include white spots on the teeth that appear first. Then, an early cavity appears that has a light brown color on the tooth. The tooth color progressively becomes darker and the decayed teeth may become sensitive to sweets and cold beverages or foods.
Dental caries are usually diagnosed based on a complete history and physical examination of your child. This may be performed by your child's physician or your child's dentist.
Preventing tooth decay and cavities involves five simple steps:
Specific treatment for tooth decay will be determined by your child's physician or dentist based on:
Treatment, in most cases, requires removing the caries and replacing the lost substance of the tooth with a filling.
Teeth that have been affected by tooth decay (caries or cavities) might require a filling or other treatment. Advances in dental materials and techniques provide new, effective ways to restore teeth.
There are several different types of restorations, including:
Amalgam fillings have been used for decades, and have been tested for safety and resistance to wear. Dentists have found amalgams to be safe, reliable, and effective for restorations.
Glass ionomers are tooth-colored materials made from fine glass powders and acrylic acids. These are used in small fillings that don't have to withstand heavy pressure from chewing. Resin ionomers are made from glass with acrylic acids and acrylic resin.
For an indirect restoration, a dentist may use an all-porcelain, or ceramic, application. This material looks like natural tooth enamel in color and translucency. Another type of indirect restoration may use the porcelain that's fused to metal, which provides additional strength. Gold alloys are used often for crowns or inlays and onlays. Less expensive alternatives to gold are base metal alloys that can be used in crowns and are resistant to corrosion and fracture. Indirect composites are similar to those used for fillings and are tooth-colored, but they are not as strong as ceramic or metal restorations.
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