Tooth decay is another name for the disease known as “caries,” or cavities. A cavity is the result of your tooth enamel, dentin, or cementum being destroyed by long-term exposure to harmful bacteria.
Many cavities are preventable. Tooth decay is promoted by your teeth being frequently exposed to foods rich in carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda, juice,candy, crackers,chips, milk, and cookies. The worst culprits are sticky candies, gummies (including vitamins) and other items that adhere to the teeth.
When these foods break down in your mouth, they provide food for the bacterial film,called plaque, on your teeth and gums. The plaque interacts with deposits left on your teeth from sugary and starchy foods to produce acids. These acids break down tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or demineralizing, the mineral structure of your teeth. This leads to tooth decay and weakens the teeth.
Decay leads to tooth breakdown and occurs when plaque remains on your teeth for an extended period of time, allowing the bacteria to “eat away” at the surfaces of your teeth and gums. Ironically, the areas surrounding restored portions of teeth (where fillings have been placed) are particularly vulnerable to decay and are a breeding ground for bacteria.
In addition to causing cavities, plaque can lead to gum irritation, soreness, redness, and calculus(tartar) buildup. Sometimes, the bacteria can form pockets of disease around tooth structures, eventually destroying the bone beneath the tooth.
Avoid putting your baby or small child to sleep with a bottle containing anything but water because juices and milk contain sugars that can be harmful to teeth. When a child sleeps, these liquids “pool” in the mouth and bathe the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities.