Tooth decay (dental caries) results from a bacterial infection of your teeth. Your mouth is full of millions of tiny bacteria. When you consume food and drink that are high in carbohydrates (typically sugary or starchy foods or drinks), the bacteria breaks the carbohydrates down into acid. The acid then combines with the bacteria, the saliva in your mouth, and small particles of food to produce a sticky film known as plaque. Over time the plaque begins to break down the surface of your tooth. Left untreated, the plaque can completely destroy the outside of the tooth, exposing the nerves inside. Once this happens you will experience toothache.
How common is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is one of the most widespread health problems in the UK. More than half of adults in the UK have one or more decayed or unsound teeth. Tooth decay is also a problem for children. It is estimated that between 52% and 77% children aged 8 to 15 have some obvious tooth decay in their permanent teeth.
Prevention is better than cure
As well as being one of the most widespread health conditions, tooth decay is also one of the most easily preventable ones. Limiting your consumption of sugar, starchy foods and sugary drinks, as well as brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, should prevent tooth decay. There are a number of techniques that can help repair damaged teeth such as dental fillings and crowns. In more advanced cases of tooth decay, the tooth may need to be removed.