The common misconception about dental decay

by Senior Airman Rebecca Carpenter 86th Dental Squadron
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When the dental preventive team asks patients what they think causes cavities, most answer “sugar,” but this is not exactly accurate. Enamel, the outside structure of a tooth, is the strongest substance in the human body. So, what is the enemy destroying our pearly whites? The answer is acid.

The mouth hosts a variety of microorganisms, many of which are indeed beneficial. Unfortunately, we possess a certain acid-producing bacteria in our mouths that is actually contagious. This bacterium is most commonly passed down from parent to child.

Certain germs found in the mouth use foods and sugars to produce acid all over our teeth, weakening enamel over time. Acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus, vinegar and sugary drinks can also weaken the enamel.

The centers of teeth are made up of nerves, blood vessels and living tissue. When an acid erodes the tooth and a cavity forms, it can grow large enough to reach the living tissue in the center of a tooth. As a result, seemingly minor dental decay can develop over time into a dental emergency. Toothaches happen when living tissue gets infected and attempts to swell, but cannot because it’s surrounded by the hardest substance in the body.

Symptoms of a tooth infection are tenderness, gum swelling, throbbing and pain, temperature sensitivity, fever and difficulty opening your mouth and swallowing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your dentist right away.
Dental decay is the most common disease in people of all ages, and prevention is the best defense. Limiting snacks throughout the day and flossing and brushing twice daily for two minutes each time, are the best habits to counter decay. It’s important to use fluoridated toothpaste to help repair enamel and strengthen teeth. Finally, rinsing your mouth with water after eating and drinking sugary foods is an easy way to dilute the mouth acids and wash away the acid-producing bacteria.

Annual exams are an important part of prevention. To schedule an appointment, call the Ramstein Dental Clinic at 479-2210.