Tooth decay is when a small hole develops in a tooth. This happens because bacteria that live in the mouth feed on sugar in the food we eat. As they feed, the bacteria produce acid that attacks teeth. If teeth are not cleaned regularly after eating, or if someone consumes a lot of sugary foods and drinks, the repeated acid attacks can create holes in the hard outer surface of the teeth. If untreated, these holes can deepen and damage the layer of tooth underneath the surface (dentine). Many people around the world develop tooth decay at some point in their life. In most adolescents and children over the age of six years, decay damages the biting surfaces of the permanent teeth at the back of the mouth.
To prevent decay, dentists can apply a dental sealant, or fluoride varnish, directly onto the back teeth. A dental sealant is a coating made from an adhesive material such as resin or glass ionomer, which the dentists applies once to teeth. It seals off the grooves in teeth that tend to collect food, and protects them from the acid. By comparison, a fluoride varnish is a sticky paste that contains high levels of fluoride; fluoride is a mineral naturally present in teeth that protects them from damage. Fluoride varnishes need to be applied to teeth by the dentist two to four times a year. Continue reading