Tooth decay (or dental caries) seems to be one of the most ubiquitous diseases ever affected the world population. To put in in a simple way, tooth decay means destruction and demineralization of the tooth caused by increases amount of acids produced by so-called plaque biofilms. In most cases tooth decay starts from slow demineralization of the upper tooth layer, its protective cover, called enamel. Then the disease proceeds to the softer inner underlying part called dentine and eventually goes directly to the pulp, affecting blood vessels and the tooth nerve and, as a result, causing sharp pain and correspondent troubles. In some cases cemental tissue can be afftected, it happens when the tooth root is open, usually in elderly people.
In this article we will talk more about early tooth decay also know as enamel caries. At this stage toothache is a rare thing, as well as any other apparent symptoms visible without special tools and procedures. The tooth enamel may look absolutely okay, perhaps a little white spot may appear on its surface. To diagnose enamel caries you should consult your dentist. At the appointment you will be asked about tooth sensitivity and any other complains, then your mouth and teeth will be examined and probed with special dental instruments used for checking soft areas, if any. Another test implies using an airstream directly at the tooth. Dry enamel affected with tooth decay will be matte and a bit different in color.
Photo 1. The first sing of emanel caries.
It’s a good idea to visit a dentist clinic every six months, but make sure you examine your teeth regularly at home from time to time. If you suddenly notice a white spot on the tooth — it is likely to be a first sign of demineralization, but it’s not a 100% clear symptom of dental caries, white spots may be a sign of some other health troubles, so consult your dentist anyway. Keep in mind that enamel caries can be relatively easily treated and blocked.
To identify demineralized spots on the tooth enamel some dentists used to choose special tools called explorers. Nowadays some scientific institutions consider usage of dental explorers with sharp ends dangerous when diagnosing early caries. When the enamel is demineralized, but there is no cavity — it may rapidly appear after such an examination, because weakened enamel gets mechanically damaged.
Photo 2. Inspection dentist can help diagnose caries in early stages.
Nowadays to diagnose early tooth decay (enamel caries) most dentist are careful. First stage of tooth decay (enamel caries) has a great chance to be reversed without serious treatment, just using fluoride gels or varnish.
What is fluoride? Fluoride is one of the most important minerals for tooth health. It can be found in some natural foods and drinks, such as fish and tea. In addition to that it is added in tap water in many regions all over the world. Synthetic fluoride is most often used in tooth decay treating toothpastes. It protects the mineral layer of the tooth enamel and makes the enamel less vulnerable to the influence of negative factors, such as bacterial plaque and acids, for example. Fluoride in tooth decay treatment plays a very important role, especially in the enamel remineralization.
Photo 3. Fluoride gels for tooth health.
In comparison to later tooth decay stages, enamel tooth decay is not a biological, but mostly a chemical process. Why? Tooth enamel doesn’t consist of cells, but mostly of crystals (i.e. of minerals). The process of enamel demineralization because of acids — is a chemical act that is why it is reversible. Reparative mechanisms provided by nature can be self-activated by any changes in the local chemical environment (in your mouth).
Negative impact of acids on the tooth enamel is episodic and they take place more or less continually. This is why reparative mechanisms have to work all the time and the chemical environment in the mouth should be kept right to let saliva, for example, do its job — remineralize the tooth enamel and perform its natural repair.
Tooth enamel has a wonderful option of self-repairing using essential macronutrients our salivary glands give us and fluoride we get from tap water, some foods and drinks or from the toothpaste.
Photo 4. Fluoride toothpaste.
Enamel caries can be stopped by using special medications containing fluoride, keeping to the prescribed diet and thorough dental hygiene (brushing, flossing, mouthwashing).
Enamel caries can be treated but cavities (when tooth decay has progressed and affected the dentine) can’t. Cavities can only be repaired at the dentist with a special filling.
That’s the reason why it is so important to identify dental caries at its early stage.