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Module 2: Dental Caries Process

Key Points

  • Dental caries is the process whereby bacteria on teeth consume sugar to produce an acid that dissolves tooth mineral (demineralization).
  • The presence of one or more decayed (i.e., with cavitated or non-cavitated lesions), missing, or filled tooth surfaces occurring in children under age 6 is called early childhood caries.
  • A number of factors including oral flora, feeding and eating practices, fluoride exposure, and tooth anatomy influence the caries process.
  • Foods and beverages that contain sugar are major contributors to dental caries.
  • Tooth structure includes enamel, dentin, pulp, and cementum.
  • Fluoride safely and effectively prevents dental caries by (1) strengthening sound enamel; (2) promoting tooth remineralization, which makes teeth more resistant to caries; and (3) inhibiting the ability of the principal caries-producing bacteria—Mutans streptococci—to produce caries-inducing acid.
  • If dental plaque is not removed from teeth with regular toothbrushing with fluoridated toothpaste, plaque builds up into a thick layer, which more easily promotes the demineralization process.
  • Saliva, fluoride exposure, and oral hygiene are protective factors against dental caries.