Tooth decay (cavities) affects almost all of us to some degree at some point in our lives. It usually occurs in children and young adults but can affect people of any age because as we grow older, the exposed root surfaces of teeth can be susceptible to decay.
Tooth decay is the most common cause of tooth loss for younger people. You can help prevent tooth decay with good oral hygiene and a proper diet. Older patients are also prone tooth decay mostly due to the multiple medications they take.
Tooth decay starts when acids produced by bacteria in plaque eat away at tooth enamel. Plaque is a paste-like substance that adheres to the teeth and is formed by the combination of bacteria, acid, food, and saliva. Bacteria in plaque convert all foods, especially sugar and starch, into acids. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel of the tooth, causing tooth decay or cavities.
There are several factors that contribute to tooth decay, such as:
- low fluoride
- a condition called xerostomia, or dry mouth, where the body does not make enough saliva
- tooth defects
- poor dental care