The statistics are staggering: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over four million children are affected by tooth decay nationwide, a jump of over 600,000 additional preschoolers over the course of a decade. Senior citizens, those with diets high in carbohydrates and people who live in areas without a fluoridated water supply are also likely candidates for cavities.
Tooth decay is also known as caries or cavities. The natural bacteria that live in the mouth form plaque, which interacts with deposits left on teeth from sugary or starchy foods and produce acids. These acids damage tooth enamel over time by dissolving it, which weakens the teeth and leads to tooth decay.
"Surprisingly, it can take as little as 20-30 seconds for bacteria to take hold and erode the enamel," says Howard S. Glazer, DDS, FAGD, AGD spokesperson. If a consumer suspects he or she has a cavity, it is important to visit a general dentist right away.
"If cavities are left untreated," Dr. Glazer warns, "it can result in pain, the tooth can decay down to the pulp, which will result in a root canal, and/or the tooth might even need to be extracted."
How to prevent and treat tooth decay:
Take children to see a general dentist by 12 months of age.
Cut down on sugary and starchy foods, as they put teeth at risk.
See your general dentist every six months for check-ups and professional cleanings.
Brush and floss daily. Cavities often begin in the hard-to-clean areas.
Use rinses and toothpastes that contain fluoride. Reviewed: January 2012