Caries, dental

Tooth decay; the gradual erosion of enamel (the covering of the tooth) and dentine (the substance beneath the enamel). Initial decay usually occurs on the grinding surfaces of the back teeth and areas around the gum line. The main cause is plaque, a sticky substance consisting of food deposits, saliva by-products, and bacteria that collects on the teeth. The breakdown of food deposits by bacteria creates an acid that eats into the enamel to form cavities. Unchecked decay spreads to the dentine, and as the cavity enlarges, bacteria may invade and destroy the pulp at the tooth's core. Advanced decay causes toothache and bad breath. Treatment consists of drilling away the area of decay and filling the cavity (see filling, dental). In advanced decay, it may be necessary to remove the infected pulp (see extraction, dental). Water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpaste helps prevent caries. The risk of caries is also reduced by cutting sugar consumption, practising good oral hygiene, and visiting the dentist regularly.


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