Tooth decay is one of the biggest health problems that we have in the UK – around one in three adults are thought to suffer from it and in 2012 a survey of five year olds found that more than a quarter already had tooth decay in some form or other. Our teeth decay when acids that are introduced into the mouth start to dissolve the outer layers of our teeth. When this happens this causes decay.
Sometimes the signs of tooth decay can be very difficult to spot before it’s too late as you may only realise you have a problem when decay is quite advanced. Signs and symptoms include:
- A persistent toothache
- Sensitive teeth that feel tender or hurt when consuming something cold, sweet or hot
- Halitosis (bad breath)
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Being able to see spots of discolouration on your teeth – grey, brown or black
If you don’t take action against tooth decay then this can turn into even more serious issues, such as gum disease, cavities (where the decay eats a hole in the teeth) or something very uncomfortable like a dental abscess, which is where pus collects at the end of your teeth or in the gums.
The causes of tooth decay
All of our mouths contain bacteria and when these combine with pieces of food and saliva they can create plaque, which is a sort of sticky coating on the teeth. Food and drink with a high carbohydrate content, especially sugary food and drink, causes the bacteria in the plaque to start converting the carbohydrates into energy – and the byproduct of this is acid. This acid attacks the tooth surface and may eventually wear it away to expose the soft part underneath.
Preventing tooth decay
There are a number of steps you can take to make sure that tooth decay doesn’t take hold.
- Brush your teeth for at least two minutes every day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss at least once a day.
- Avoid rinsing your mouth after brushing – even with mouthwash – as this will remove the protective layer left by the toothpaste.
- Reduce your intake of sugary or starchy foods, especially just before you go to bed and in between meals.
- If you have a toothache don’t ignore it – tooth decay is much easier to treat early so make sure you have a check up with your dentist at least once every two years (for under 18s this should be once a year).