Tooth decay is caused by the build-up of plaque at the gum line. Plaque is a clear, sticky substance constantly produced in the mouth which attracts bacteria which eat sugars in food consumed by an individual and excrete acids which contribute to tooth decay. Although it is continuously being formed, plaque can be controlled with frequent brushing and regular flossing. If it is not removed, it can harden into tartar, a substance which is much more difficult to remove from the teeth and can only be fully cleared off by a thorough dental cleaning.
As plaque and tartar accumulate, they increase the acid produced by bacteria which in turn eats away at tooth enamel resulting in a cavity which must be filled in order to prevent pain, infections, or tooth loss. Slight tooth decay can be reversed by using fluoride toothpaste and rinse, but severe cases require a crown, root canal, or even tooth extraction. Tooth decay can be prevented using good oral hygiene and avoiding sugary foods which feed bacteria. Sadly, tooth decay is extremely common – by age seventeen almost four fifths of the population has had at least one cavity, and more than two thirds of adults age 35 to 44 have lost at least one permanent tooth to cavities. Thankfully, tooth decay is easier than ever to prevent due to better identification of the bacteria which cause it and early warning signs which include potential genetic links.
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