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.
Research shows the consumption of sugar and starchy foods creates the perfect environment for the growth of the acid-producing bacteria responsible for rotting teeth. This partially explains the alarming number of children who experience decayed or rotten teeth. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 6 out of 10 children in the U.S. will have a least one cavity filled by age 5. Studies link this alarming statistic to three things: 1) the omnipresence of sugary snacks; 2) the practice of giving small children pacifying bottles of juice, milk, or formula to drink during the day or overnight; and 3) inconsistent oral hygiene.
Symptoms of a Rotting Tooth
The acid damage that leads to rotten teeth is initially undetectable to anyone other than a dentist reviewing dental X-rays. However, once the decay has eaten through the enamel, rotting teeth generally become sensitive to sweet foods, extreme temperatures and pressure. By the time tooth decay is clearly visible to the naked eye, serious and potentially irreversible harm has taken place.
Preventing Rotten Teeth
Preventing rotten teeth takes a little common sense and a lot of dedication. The key to avoiding rotting teeth is reducing the amount of cavity-causing bacteria and dental plaque in your mouth. This requires a real commitment to good oral hygiene. By following a regular dental care regime, you'll help minimize the risk of developing a rotting tooth or two. This requires:
- Brushing your teeth 2-3 times a day
- Using tartar-control toothpaste with fluoride
- Flossing daily
- Rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash
- Cutting back on starchy and sugary foods
- Increasing saliva flow by chewing xylitol gum
- Regular dental cleanings by a dentist DDS, DMD or dental hygienist
You don't have to live with a dead tooth. If you're troubled by rotting teeth, it's time to see a dentist.