Teeth loss is inevitable as it comes with aging, but tooth decay can hasten and cause premature loss of teeth.
Simply put, tooth decay is the destruction or wearing down of the enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of the teeth. Tooth decay causes cavities or holes in teeth, eventually leading to tooth loss.
Bacteria and a diet high in sugar and starch are the two major causes of tooth decay. Bacteria leads to plaque buildup, while sugar and starch are converted into acid, which then attacks the tooth enamel and weakens teeth.
There are also several factors that can increase the risk of tooth decay, such as:
- Poor oral hygiene: Not regularly brushing and flossing can cause bacteria to breed in the teeth and gums. Make it a point to brush your teeth twice a day to remove the plaque that is clinging to the teeth. Flossing once a day will help clear out plaque from hard-to-reach parts of the teeth and gums that are vulnerable to tooth decay.
- Dry mouth: This is usually caused by aging (since the mouth glands produce less saliva as you grow older), taking certain medications, and illnesses such as Sjörgren's syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other diseases that affect the salivary glands. Saliva is needed to lubricate the teeth and neutralize decay-causing acids.
- Prolonged exposure to sugar: As mentioned, a diet high in sugar and starch speeds up the rate of tooth decay. Regulate your intake of sugar and carbs (e.g. pasta, bread, pastries, etc.) to stave off not just unwanted pounds but also tooth decay. Parents should avoid giving their babies frequent and prolonged feedings of sugary drinks. Also, if you are taking medication that contains sugar, ask your doctor for sugar-free alternatives.
- Fluoride deficiency: Fluoride protects the teeth by making them more resistant to the acids produced by plaque. Use fluoride-rich toothpaste to further bolster protection for your teeth, or ask your dentist on how you can increase your fluoride levels.
- Tooth size and shape: Small teeth with lots of deep pits and grooves have more areas for plaque to accumulate, and make them harder to clean. Consult with your dentist on proper oral hygiene practices or the right dental treatment to effectively get rid of plaque.
- Teeth position and bite: Those with crooked teeth and a poorly aligned bite are advised to seek orthodontic treatment to prevent cavities and tooth decay. There is more surface area for plaque to grow and spread with overlapped teeth, while a poorly aligned bite can wear down enamel faster, making the teeth vulnerable to decay.
- Smoking: Cigarettes do not just stain the teeth, they can also do some serious damage to the structure. Smoking weakens the teeth and causes your glands to produce less saliva. Keep in mind that if you breathe through your mouth, you dry up the saliva that helps protect your teeth.