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Houston Dentist - Dr. Kirk Speck D.D.S.

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Home arrow Dentist Articles arrow Tooth Decay - What is It?
Tooth Decay - What is It?

Numerous children are admonished on a daily basis to be careful to brush well so that they don't get cavities. But what exactly is a cavity? A cavity, or tooth decay, is a location on a tooth where a large amount of the tooth's mineral content has been dissolved to the point that a defect, a hole, has formed.  

As a bit of background, the majority of the surface of a tooth is covered by enamel. It is common knowledge that tooth enamel is the hardest tissue found in the human body. Enamel is, for the vast majority, made up of minerals. This is what gives enamel its extreme hardness. Hydroxyapatite is the most common mineral found in enamel and is made up of a lot of calcium.

Tooth decay is a spot on the tooth where enough of the enamel has been worn away that a hole has formed. The hole forms due to bacteria in the mouth that releases acids which demineralize the tooth itself.

The acids are not produced by all bacteria. Special types of bacteria are needed. These bacterium live in dental plaque. Mutans Streptococci and Lactobacilli are the two most common forms of bacteria. For this reason, a lot of mouthwashes are antibacterial.

Because bacteria are living organisms, they create waste products just like people do. Bacteria uses sugar such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, or any other cooked starches as their main food source. When sugars are digested, acids are produced. These are the acids which cause the demineralization of tooth enamel and dentin.

Bacteria eat when we do. They take their sugars from the sugars we ingest. So when we consume foods like soda, candy, milk, and even fruits and vegetables, the bacteria are given a sugar buffet. Within minutes of consumption of these foods, the bacteria will start producing the acids that are responsible for tooth decay.

All mouths contain bacteria. It is not possible to sterilize a mouth but it is possible to minimize the potential for tooth decay. By minimizing the presence of dental plaque, a person can minimize the possibility of tooth decay. Dental plaque is an organized colony of mouth bacteria.

Dental plaque not only gives bacteria a home but it also holds the acid the bacterium produces right against the surface of the tooth. This speeds the process of decay.

For more information on tooth decay and prevention, please visit