Dental cavities and tooth decay is one of the most common medical conditions experienced by Americans and the single most common disease of childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than19 percent of children have untreated cavities and approximately 41 percent of children have decay in their “baby teeth.” This is a health statistic that has not improved since the 1970s and recent studies are indicting a new rise in cavities in children.
Cavities are the result of gradual tooth decay caused by the build-up of plaque and breakdown of protective enamel. Bacteria are normally present in the mouth; however, as they digest sugar and starches they produce acid, which weakens the enamel. Additionally, the bacteria and its acid mixes with food debris and saliva to form a sticky biofilm called plaque. Plaque that is not removed hardens into tarter, which can result in inflammation and gingivitis. The acid within the plaque can continue to dissolve the enamel and eventually cause pits and holes, called cavities. Initially cavities are painless, but they open the tooth up to infections, eventually exposure the nerve resulting in pain. The internal structures of the tooth can also be destroyed, ultimately causing the loss of the tooth.
Overall, oral hygiene is an essential component of one’s health. At a recent American Heart Association research meeting, researchers shared findings that professional dental care can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. The team tracked more than 100,000 people for an average of 7 years in Taiwan. They found that those who had their teeth professionally cleaned at least once every two years were 24 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 13 percent less likely to have a stroke. The authors argued that regular dentist visits and oral hygiene reduces the growth of inflammation-causing bacteria. Bacteria like Porphyromonas ginigivalis and Fusobacterium nucleatum proliferate on unclean teeth causing periodontal disease. However, these bacteria can also cause inflammation of the vessels, with studies showing that these bacteria are associated with elevation in C-reactive protein, a marker for blood vessel inflammation.
Dental health should begin in childhood as even babies are susceptible to cavities. Most children get their first tooth around 6 or 7 months of age and dental care should begin promptly thereafter with a visit to the dentist, as well as, regular tooth brushing. One major risk for early childhood cavities is prolong consumption of sugary liquids, particularly allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle of juice or milk. The extended contact with sugar increases the rate of tooth decay, having the potential to destroy the child’s entire set of teeth.
This article was written by Dr. David B. Samadi is the Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology and Chief of Robotics and Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. This article was published on March 28, 2012 on FoxNews.com.
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