Dental caries (tooth decay) is a bacterial disease of the mineralised tissues of the tooth, where the strong crystal structure found in both enamel and dentine is demineralised (dissolved) by the action of acids. This allows the softer organic component of the tooth structure to be broken down to form cavities.
The relevant factors in the development of dental caries are:
- A diet containing a high proportion of non-milk extrinsic sugars
- Poor oral hygiene allowing to accumulation of dental plaque and the bacteria it contains
- The action of the bacteria on the nonomilk extrinsic sugars to produce acid, which demineralises the tooth structure and allows cavities to develop
The bacteria involved need to become attached to the tooth surface to be able to digest food debris and initiate dental caries, and they do this by forming themselves into a sticky layer called bacterial plaque.
Prevention of caries
Caries is a breakdown of the tooth structure, caused by acid produced by plaque bacteria from dietary sugar. Therefore, there are three main ways of prevention:
- Modification of the diet – to include less cariogenic foods and drinks, and to reduce the frequency of their intake
- Control of bacterial plaque – to carry out the regular and thorough removal of plaque, using good oral hygiene techniques
- Increasing the tooth resistance to acid attack – by incorporating fluoride into its crystal structure