Simply, dental decay is a bacterial infection of the tooth. Everyone's mouth is full of bacteria - both good and bad. In a healthy individual, with a healthy diet, a balance occurs which keeps the bacteria and the decay process in check.
As far as the surface of the teeth are concerned: demineralization (loss of minerals) and remineralization (gain of minerals) is constantly occurring based on features of the surrounding environment of the mouth.
When acidity of the mouth increases (pH below 5.5) the teeth lose minerals faster than they can gain them. This weakens the teeth and they become more prone to the bacterial invasion. This is dental decay.
Your diet is very important. Actually dental decay can be controlled by diet alone. By controlling the types of food and drinks you buy, you can prevent 90% of the decay we see in children.
Drinking pop is double trouble. A 12 oz. can of soda contains 10 sugar cubes and has the acidity of pH 2.3. Sports drinks have an acidity of pH 2.7. To put the pH levels in perspective: water, which is neutral, has a pH of 7 and the acid in you car battery has a pH of 1. Diet sodas also have phosphoric acid added to them.
The sugars in the soda feed the bacteria around the teeth creating a highly acidic environment. The sugars also multiply the number of bacteria in the mouth. In addition, the acids themselves weaken the tooth surface enabling additional bacteria to invade the tooth surface.
There are two main types of fluoride used in dentistry. Digestible fluoride which is distributed through drops or tablets and surface fluoride which is placed directly on the teeth through toothpaste, swish-swash programs and topical treatments in the dental office.
Digestible fluoride works on the developing tooth. Fluoride ions are absorbed into the body and bond to the developing tooth making the "entire" tooth harder and not just the surface of the tooth.
Yes, but they do so indirectly. Remember a healthy mouth contains many types of bacteria which remain in balance. Your saliva is essential to maintaining this balance. Decreased saliva flow is a common side effect of many medications. With decreased saliva flow or xerostomia, the acid loving and acid producing bacteria take over resulting in active uncontrolled decay.
Actually, over 400 prescription drugs and many over OTC (over the counter) drugs cause xerostomia. Some of the more common are: antidepressants, antihypertensives, antihistamines, diuretics, antipsycotics, decongestants, and opiads. Illicit drugs like metamphetamines and cannabis also cause "dry mouth".
In addition, systemic disorders like Sjorgen's Syndrome, TB, HIV, and uncontrolled diabetes can cause "dry mouth" symptoms. Habits like tobacco and alcohol use also contribute to the problem.
Grinding or "Bruxism" and clenching of ones teeth is a fairly common malody in our modern stress driven society. In fact, Bruxism affects 30-40 million children and adults in America.
Most people do not know they are bruxers because it occurs in the deepest levels of sleep and only for short periods of time. Since people can generate 300-400 lbs. of pressure on their teeth when they brux the results can be very destructive.
Headaches, earaches, cracked and broken teeth, and hypersensitivity of teeth to hot and cold are some of the the more common symptoms of bruxers. In addition, broken crowns and bridges, jaw pain, and worn teeth enamel can occur exposing deeper more sensitive areas of the tooth.
Bruxism seems to be common in personality types who tend to internalize anger and coping with stress.
Custom fitted nightguards protect the teeth and restorations and help "remind" the brain not to brux.
Pictured on right is a 43 year old female with severe bruxing habit as evidenced by extreme wear on the gold crown.