Sunday, July 8, 2012

Understand Your Dentist Visits: What Causes Tooth Decay and Why?

Everyone knows that it's best practice to visit the dentist regularly for cleanings, but many do not know why. While it would seem that regular brushing and flossing is enough to keep your teeth healthy and clean, they cannot prevent all problems that can occur in the gums and teeth. Oral hygiene is based around the growth of a few problematic germs and substances and some cleaning procedures that address them. An understanding of how these work can make cleaning at home less of a chore and take some of the mystery out of visits to the dentist.

The main causer of problems in the mouth is a substance known as plaque. Plaque is technically dental biofilm, a thin film of bacteria that forms naturally on the surface of teeth. Most of the body that is exposed to the outside world forms layers and sheds, as hair and skin do. Teeth are different in that they stay as they are once fully grown. Because teeth do not shed their outer later, plaque builds up easily on the surface and will remain there if not removed.

Plaque starts forming after only a few hours of brushing and if left untouched will harden into a substance called tartar after a few days. Tartar itself is actually a calcium buildup on the tooth, but this buildup promotes harmful bacteria and can trap them between the tartar deposit and the surface of the tooth. These bacteria will eat away at the tooth itself, causing dental cavities. These holes in the teeth can grow rapidly, destroying layers of the bone crucial to the tooth's structure and eventually burrowing into the root of the tooth. This part of the tooth is soft and connects to the rest of the body in order to provide nutrients to the bone. Left untreated, an infection this deep can cause the tooth to completely decay and be lost.

While this may sound like an oral disaster waiting to happen, there are plenty of little things that you can do to stop these problems before they even start. Regular brushing, flossing, and use of anti-plaque mouthwash can destroy most of the plaque buildup in your mouth. Still, your toothbrush and floss cannot reach all of the nooks and crannies in your mouth, so some tartar is bound to form over time. Unfortunately, tartar is too hard to be removed with a toothbrush.

Routine dentist visits treat the problem of tartar buildup. Oral hygienists use ultrasonic tools and metal scrapers to remove the hard calcium buildups. Going to the dentist every six months to a year keeps buildups from becoming too damaging, and if cavities do occur fillings can seal up the holes to keep bacteria from tunneling too far into the teeth.

The key thing to remember about plaque and tartar is that time is your biggest enemy. When problems are left unattended, little buildups can escalate into big problems. If you haven't been to the dentist in awhile, a good cleaning can get you back to a clean slate. Your teeth feel great when they're fresh and clean, and with this knowledge in mind brushing and flossing can seem more productive and enjoyable.

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