What is Tooth Decay?

What is tooth decay?

Dental caries (tooth decay, cavities, rotting teeth) is a bacterial infection that causes destruction of the teeth. The bacteria consume sugar and food debris on the teeth, gums and sulcus (the space between a tooth and its surrounding gum), producing acids, enzymes and toxic by-products. These acids corrode and destroy the teeth.

cross section of a tooth showing enamel, dentine, pulp, gum, cementum

If left untreated, the disease can lead to pain, tooth loss and infection in other parts of the body.

Most children and 90% of adults around the world experience dental caries. It is the most common chronic childhood disease. About 20% of children are particularly badly affected, presenting with three quarters of all cases. Approximately 30-50% of adults over the age of 50 have dental caries. Its prevalence is higher among the economically disadvantaged and those who have a high-carbohydrate diet and a “sweet tooth”.

Tooth enamel is the outer white hard surface of the tooth. This is the part that you can see. Dentin is a hard, yellow-coloured layer under the enamel. The enamel and dentin provide the structure of the tooth and enclose and protect the pulp. Pulp is the soft inner living tissue in the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves.

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