You really can't dress up rotten teeth, though the medical community tries. Case in point: "caries" is the ten-dollar Latin word for "rotten" and so "dental caries" has become the fancy, dental school term for "rotten teeth." Still, there's nothing fancy about rotting teeth. They're just unsightly examples of tooth decay, plain and simple.
An extremely common dental problem, carious, or rotten, teeth affect millions of men, women and children the world over. People become susceptible to the factors causing rotting teeth virtually the moment that their first baby teeth appear. And while the primary cause of rotting teeth is as complex as it is pervasive, one thing is clear: left untreated, a rotting tooth is destined to become a dead tooth.
What Causes a Dead Tooth to Die?
Rotten teeth are the result of the demineralization of tooth enamel by the acid-producing bacteria that normally grow the human mouth. The erosive power of this chemical process is why cavities and rotting teeth appear discolored and ofttimes translucent. In so-called "best case" scenarios, the acid responsible for rotting teeth will create a small dental cavity. In worst-case scenarios, the acid will eat through the enamel and dentin into the pulp of the tooth producing first a toothache and then a dead tooth.
The Sugar and Rotting Teeth Connection
A rotting tooth is very much a modern problem. Though rotten teeth were not completely unknown in ancient civilizations, the condition was not nearly as widespread as it is in contemporary society. Interestingly, the dramatic rise in the incidence of rotting teeth first began in Europe and North America during the 1700s. Not coincidently, this was the beginning of the era when the use of sugar cane and sugar beet-derived sucrose as a food additive became common.