Tooth decay, dental caries, and cavities are all terms for erosion of tooth enamel. It can affect patients of any age, from infants with only a few teeth, to the elderly. What begins as a small cavity can lead to gum disease, root canal infection, and even tooth loss without treatment.
What causes decay
Plaque is a sticky biofilm containing saliva, bacteria, and food particles. It is constantly forming on your teeth. Bacteria feed off the carbohydrates in your food, especially sugars. As they convert those carbohydrates, they create acids, which erode tooth enamel. Acidic foods and beverages such as energy drinks directly contribute to enamel erosion.
Because plaque is sticky, it clings to teeth, holding the bacteria, acid, and bits of food against the enamel. Over time, the acidic environment causes breakdown of enamel, leaving the tooth susceptible to decay. When a hole forms in a tooth, it is called a cavity.
Tooth decay in senior citizens
Cavities continue to be most common in children, though health issues and physiological changes make aging adults particularly susceptible as well. Gum tissues may recede with age, especially with the high rate of periodontal disease in older Americans. This leaves the roots of teeth exposed, and vulnerable to plaque. There is no enamel on roots; they are covered with a softer layer known as cementum. Exposure can result in temperature sensitivity, as well as cavities. Adults over the age of 50 frequently develop tooth-root decay.
Another common problem among the elderly is decay around the edges (margins) of fillings, crowns, or other restorations. In recent years, great strides have been made in preventive dentistry, including sealants and fluoride treatments for children. Older generations did not benefit from these procedures, and they typically had unsatisfactory (by modern standards) dental care as young adults. Therefore, they typically have many fillings. Over time, bacteria can accumulate around the edges, especially if there are fractures.
A healthy lifestyle and good oral hygiene can keep your teeth healthy and beautiful. Follow these simple tips to minimize your risk of developing cavities.
- Brush your teeth for at least two minutes, a minimum of twice daily.
- Floss your teeth, or use an interdental cleaner, at least once daily.
- Avoid sugary or acidic foods and beverages.
- Avoid snacking between meals.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- See your dentist every six months!