WHAT IS DENTAL CARIES?
Dental caries is the medical term used to describe tooth decay aka cavities.
It is a disease. It is the most common preventable childhood ailment effecting children worldwide.
It is caused by specific types of bacteria that are found in the mouth. They have the ability to produce acids that can destroy tooth enamel in the form of cavities.
HOW DOES A CAVITY START?
There is a sticky whitish film that builds up around the teeth called plaque. It consists of bacteria, saliva, partially digested foods, and other natural substances. The partially digested food serves as food for the bacteria allowing it to produce more acids. These acids in turn weaken the tooth enamel until a hole is formed. The dentin, which is a part of the tooth under enamel, is softer then enamel. Once the bacteria can reach the dentin then decay can spread at a much faster rate.
SIGNS OF DECAY
There are really no signs of decay in the beginning of a cavity that a parent can clearly see. That can only be detected with a dental instrument called a probe and/or an X-ray. When there is a discoloration, dark spots or even a broken tooth, then the problem has progressed to a very serious level.
SYMPTOMS OF DECAY
Pain in general is not a good thing. It is however an alert to the body that something is wrong. When a cavity is small and it's still in the enamel, there is no pain or sensitivity. This is due to the fact that there are no nerve endings in enamel. Once the cavity becomes bigger and deeper into dentin, sensitivity and pain will ensue. It also depends on a person's pain threshold level. Some individuals tolerate pain better than others. These same individuals will not have discomfort from decay until it is a very large, serious cavity.
CONSEQUENCE OF NEGLECT
Neglect of dental caries is a form of child neglect and can have a plethora of very serious consequences. Pain, dental infection, premature loss of teeth, malocclusion are all known results of dental neglect. Poor weight gain, loss of sleep, speech problems, poor school performance, poor self image are also a result of poor/ neglected dental care
CAVITIES IN BABY TEETH AND ADULT TEETH, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
There is a marked difference between decay in baby teeth and in adult teeth. In fact, the teeth themselves are very different. Since baby teeth are meant to not last beyond early adolescence, as compared to adult teeth which should last your whole life, they develop differently. There are 20 primary teeth that all exfoliate and are replaced by permanent teeth. They are meant to last roughly 6 years from the point of eruption. Size, shape and color are naturally (and noticeable) different but there is also less thickness of enamel and the pulp chamber is larger in primary teeth.
This is a very critical factor and the reason why decay spreads faster into the pulp chamber of primary teeth then permanent teeth. Once this happens then pain ensues. If an infection (abscess) develops then extraction is inevitable. Baby teeth and permanent teeth are not physically linked. The permanent tooth bud grows directly beneath the primary tooth it will replace. A chronic abscess in a baby tooth can permanently damage the adult tooth as it is developing.
WHY DO SOME CHILDREN GET MORE DECAY THAN OTHER CHILDREN?
There is no one answer to this question. The answer is multi factorial. The cause may include but is not limited to:
Lack of dental care
Poor oral hygiene
Genetic factors i.e. Oral abnormalities that restrict chewing and swallowing
NOT SO FUN FACT
As stated earlier, dental caries is a disease. All babies are born caries free. Parents can introduce the caries causing bacteria early on in a baby's life by sharing food and utensils with their baby.
The importance of oral hygiene can't be stressed enough along with a healthy sensible diet. Regular dental visits at an early age is vital to keeping a young child's mouth healthy. Preventive treatment is the cornerstone of pediatric dentistry. Early interceptive treatment can benefit both children as well as adults by being less invasive and relatively pain free.