Dental caries or tooth decay is a condition caused by bacteria that results in demineralization and destruction of hard tissues of the tooth. Dental caries are also damaged areas of the teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Dental caries is the most common noncommunicable disease worldwide. Dental caries is cumulative, that is why majority occurs in adults.

Causes or Risk Factors of Dental Caries

Everyone is at risk of developing dental caries, most especially children and adolescents. Dental caries can be caused by:

  1. Streptococcus mutans or Lactobacilli (Oral bacteria)
  2. Dental arrangement
  3. Trapped food between the teeth
  4. Numerous and exaggerated deep grooves of the teeth
  5. Poor hygiene habit
  6. High sugar consumption

Signs and Symptoms of Dental Caries

They include:

  1. Toothache
  2. Holes in the tooth
  3. Mild to sharp pain when eating or taking either a sweet, hot or cold drink
  4. Visible holes in the affected teeth
  5. Soreness
  6. Swollen face
  7. Fever
  8. Offensive breath

Diagnosis of Dental Caries

The dentist examines the oral cavity and detect tooth decay by:

  1. History Taking: Getting history of various symptoms and asking about tooth pain and sensitivity.
  2. Physical Examination: this reveals holes in the teeth. Probing the teeth with dental instruments to also check for soft areas can help in diagnosis.
  3. Dental X-rays: can also help to show the extent of tooth decay.
  4. Blood Analysis: this is to isolate the causative organism.

Management of Dental Caries

Periodic dental checkups provide early identification of dental caries and prevent complications. Treatment of dental caries depends on the cause and severity. These includes:

  1. Fluoridation: This is done when the dentist applies a concentrated gel or solution to the teeth. Professional fluorides contain more fluoride than the amount found in tap water, mouth wash or toothpaste. A fluoride treatment can help restore the tooth’s enamel and can sometimes treat a tooth decay in its early stage.
  2. Fillings: Also called restorations, is done when tooth decay has progressed from its early stage. Dentist sometimes apply a special coating to fill and seal areas prone to caries.
  3. Crowns: A crown is a custom-fitted covering that replaces the tooth’s entire natural crown.
  4. Root Canal: A root canal is a treatment needed when decay has reached the inner material of the tooth (pulp). Root canal is used to save a badly infected tooth. Instead of removing the tooth, the pulp is removed and replaced with filling. Medications is sometimes put into the root canal to clear infection.
  5. Tooth Extraction: When a tooth is severely decayed and cannot be restored, it is removed. A dental implant can be done to replace the removed tooth.

Prevention of Dental Caries

Tooth decay can be avoided if we adhere to the following:

  1. Diet: Reduce intake of sugary foods, chocolates and drinks. Rinse mouth after each meal. Avoid alcohol and tobacco products.
  2. Oral Care: Teeth should be gently cleaned with soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste twice daily to break up the buildup of bacteria. Flossing after meal to also get rid of plaques and food particles that can cause caries. Toothbrush should be replaced regularly, at least, every two to three months as it may become less effective in removing plaques from teeth.
  3. Denture Care: If there are any artificial teeth, brush them daily, remove and soak in water at night. Rinse mouth with warm salt water after meals. Chew slowly.
  4. Regular Dental Checkups: Dental checkup should be done at least twice in a year.

Complications of Dental Caries

Complications of dental caries includes:

  1. Tooth abscess
  2. Sepsis
  3. Halitosis (Bad breath)

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