What causes tooth decay?

What causes tooth decay?

Good oral health can go a long way in enhancing one’s quality of life. Oral health primarily consists of health of teeth and other parts of mouth like gums, tongue etc. As one ages, usually oral health deteriorates and there can be issues like cavities and much more. Following proper oral hygiene can improve one’s oral health.

Cavity is most often caused by sweet foods and beverages. Without regular brushing and flossing, the bacteria in our mouth, known as dental plaque, convert sugars into acids. Over time, acid eats away at the surface of a tooth, attacking the enamel, weakening the tooth and causing decay in the form of holes or cavities.

Our everyday routine may put you at greater risk of tooth decay, without us knowing:

Dry mouth– Also known as xerostomia, a dry mouth occurs when there is a lack of saliva in your mouth. Saliva helps to neutralise acid attack on your teeth. Playing active sports can increase your chances of a dry mouth if you become dehydrated because dehydration reduces saliva. If you’re playing sport, remember to drink plenty of fluoridated tap water to keep lots of saliva in your mouth

Medication– Some medications can encourage tooth decay either because they cause xerostomia or are acidic. These include chewable Vitamin C tablets, frequent use of aspirin, some iron supplements in liquid form, some cough medicines, some types of asthma medication and some anti-depressants. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without consulting with your doctor, but make sure you discuss any medications with your dentist

Smoking– Tobacco in cigarettes can damage your teeth and gums. Tooth decay and gum infections are more common in people who smoke. Smoking also reduces the amount of saliva in your mouth, which again puts your teeth at greater risk of decay. Smoking is also a risk factor for oral cancer

Cariogenic versus cariostatic foods

Cariogenic  food contain fermentable carbohydrates that can cause a decrease in salivary pH to <5.5 and demineralization when in contact with microorganisms in the mouth; promoting caries development

  • Promote formation of caries
  • Fermentable carbohydrates, those that can be broken down by salivary amylase
  • Result in lower mouth pH
  • Include crackers, chips, pretzels, cereals, breads, fruits, sugars, sweets, desserts

Cariostatic food are not metabolized by microorganisms in plaque to cause a drop in salivary pH to <5.5


  • Foods that do not contribute to decay
  • Do not cause a drop in salivary pH
  • Includes protein foods, eggs, fish, meat and poultry; most vegetables, fats, sugarless gums


Other Factors that Affect Diet Carogenicity

Consistency: Liquids are cleared quickly while sticky foods remain on the teeth

Meal frequency: frequent meals and snacks increase duration of exposure

Food composition

Food form: liquid, solid, slowly dissolving

Sequence of eating: cheese or milk at the end of the meal decrease the cariogenicity of the meal


Be aware of what you eat and drink:

  • Avoid snacking on sugary or acidic foods and drinks between meals. Some foods like muesli and fruit bars might seem healthy, however if they are sugary or have a sticky texture, they may increase your risk of tooth decay
  • Opt for safe snacks such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and cheese
  • Minimise the acid exposure to your teeth by using a straw when drinking soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice
  • Eating calcium rich foods like milk, cheese and yogurt can help to neutralise acids and protect your teeth
  • Drink plenty of fluoridated water. This maintains healthy saliva and the fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva after meals – saliva neutralises acids that cause decay


Maintain good oral hygiene habits:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes using a fluoride toothpaste. This can reduce your risk of decay by 25%
  • Floss your teeth daily
  • Visit your dentist regularly for a professional clean and general check-up
  • If you live in an area that does not fluoridate tap water or you don’t drink fluoridated water, talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments which can help prevent tooth decay




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s