Dental Caries Image 1
Dental Caries Image 2

Dental Caries
or Dental Decay


Dental decay, or “Caries”, is usually defined as acid attacking the tooth surfaces. Acid is produced when sugar from foods we eat comes in contact with plaque bacteria on and in between the teeth.

Each sugar intake produces up to 30 minutes of acid production. If decay is not detected, it can cause extensive damage to the tooth. But don’t be too alarmed. Teeth do recover from the earliest stages of decay, and damage can be repaired. Early decay usually first appears as white spots. If the decay is not treated, the white spots can change colour and develop into cavities that need filling. Decay operates in different ways and intensity in different individuals and population groups. There are two groups which are most at risk from decay: those people aged between 15 and 30 and those aged over 60.

Certain areas of the tooth are more susceptible to decay and for different reasons. The grooves in the biting surface of the teeth are deep and narrow and are difficult to fully clean. Plaque trapped in these areas can begin decaying the tooth below the surface. If there is a risk of such caries developing, the grooves can be sealed with a composite resin “fissure sealant” as a preventive measure. Plaque trapped between the teeth just below the point of contact can cause caries to begin in this area. The best preventive measure here is to floss the teeth every day. As we get older, gum tissues (gingivae) recede and tooth surfaces are exposed. This is called gingival recession. Our tooth roots have no protective enamel, so decay can occur more rapidly and undermine the strength of the tooth.

Children aged under 15 are believed to be much less susceptible to decay having grown up with fluoridated tap water. Dentists often find, however, that the tooth enamel is strong and sound due to the fluoride, but in the depth of the fissures, caries has begun, unseen. At times, this caries has progressed extensively through the dentin layer before there is any discernable sign either by visual examination or in X-rays. The rate at which decay builds depends on a balance between many factors. Important preventive strategies include proper nutritional advice, good personal oral hygiene and use of fluoride products. Avoid foods and drinks that are high in sugar such as sugar-coated biscuits and soft drinks. Have regular, healthy meals and try to cut out between-meal snacks. If you do need something extra, try fresh fruit. You will need to be diligent in removing food debris that becomes trapped between teeth. Drink lots of water because this will also assist in washing away food acids in the mouth. Saliva is another ally that protects the teeth and helps fight acid. If the mouth is dry, drink water to increase saliva.

Teeth are susceptible to decay in a dry mouth. Regular visits to your dentist; proper brushing twice a day; daily flossing; and a healthy diet will help guarantee your teeth will be with you well into old age.




Dental Caries