Almost one third of Australians have dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay. If it's left untreated, this can lead to toothaches, bad breath, infections and even tooth loss.
The good news is, dental caries can be easy to prevent when you follow good oral hygiene and keep up with your regular dental appointments.
Why Do Teeth Decay?
Your teeth are the strongest part of your body, but they're not invincible. Just as they can be damaged in a sudden impact, they can also be worn down over time by acid produced by plaque. This is a layer of bacteria that can build up on your teeth if you don't follow good oral hygiene.
If you consume sugary food and drinks and don't brush and floss your teeth properly, this feeds the bacteria in your mouth and can cause your teeth to decay at a faster rate. This can create cavities that expose the soft tissues and nerves inside your tooth, leading to painful toothaches. If a tooth is too badly decayed, it may become loose and fall out, or may need to be removed by your dentist.
Am I At Risk?
Your teeth could be more at risk of dental caries if you have a health condition or take medication that reduces saliva production, such as diabetes or Sjögren's syndrome. You can also increase your risk factor by smoking and consuming too much sugar in your diet.
Children's teeth are softer with thinner enamel than adult teeth, which means they can decay more easily. According to research by AIHW and the University of Adelaide, approximately half of Australians aged 12 have dental caries in their permanent teeth. This condition also affects around 3 in 10 adults.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dental Caries?
Tooth decay doesn't always have visible symptoms. Many people only find out they have it when they feel a toothache, pain when biting down, or increased sensitivity to hot and cold food and drink.
Dental caries may be visible as white, brown or black spots on your teeth, close to the point where the tooth meets the gum. Over time, it can create cavities or cause teeth to turn yellow, brown or black.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Can Dental Caries Be Treated?
Depending on how advanced your dental caries is, you and your dentist may be able to fully reverse its effects by taking preventative steps. Your dentist will professionally clean your teeth to remove any plaque that's present and may recommend applying a sealant to help protect teeth that are at the greatest risk.
If you already have cavities in your teeth, this will usually require a filling to remove the decayed tissue and replace it with a synthetic material. White fillings use composite resin that's designed to look like your natural teeth.
If dental caries has reached the centre of your tooth, you may need a root canal. Your dentist will remove and replace the decayed tissue and seal your tooth with a realistic-looking crown.
If your tooth is too badly damaged to repair, it may need to be extracted to protect the rest of your mouth and prevent related problems such as gum disease. Your dentist will explain the different options available for replacing an extracted tooth, including a dental implant, bridge or permanent denture.
Can Dental Caries Be Prevented?
Tooth decay is a fully preventable condition that you can keep at bay by following your dentist's advice and looking after your oral health. This includes:
- Avoiding sweet, sugary and acidic food and drink
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste
- Flossing your teeth at least once a day
- Rinsing your mouth with a fluoride mouthwash
- Visiting your dentist every six months for your regular check-up
- Talk To Our Dentists In Perth's Northern Suburbs
We're always happy to meet new patients and see familiar faces at Ocean Reef Dental Surgery. Get in touch with our friendly team to arrange your next check-up at a time that's good for you.
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Dental and oral health [Online] 2012 [Accessed August 2017] Available from: http://www.aihw.gov.au/dental-and-oral-health/