Things you should know about dental caries
1. It is a major public health problem globally
Untreated dental caries in permanent teeth is the most common health condition according to the Global Burden of Disease 2017. In developing countries, the prevalence of dental caries is increasing due to the growing consumption of sugary foods, poor tooth brushing habits, and generally, a low level of awareness about dental caries.
2. It is also the most prevalent of all health conditions
Almost half of the world’s population is affected by dental caries. High levels of dental caries occur in middle-income countries, where sugars consumption is high. The majority of dental caries occurs in adults because the disease is cumulative. There is a clear dose-response relationship between sugar consumption and dental caries. The disease is also associated with socioeconomic status, with high prevalence rates among the poor and disadvantaged population groups.
3. Majority of dental caries are not treated
Majority of dental caries remains untreated due to inappropriate, unaffordable or unavailable dental health services. The current dentists population ratio in Kenya is 1:42,000 which is far below the World Health Organisation recommended ratio of 1:7,000. A scrutiny at the
provision and distribution of dental equipment in the public health facilities indicate that most are not functional while the supply of dental materials is erratic. Most public health facilities in Kenya have no adequate physical infrastructure for dental clinics. Also, almost all the dentist are concentrated in urban centres leaving a large population in the rural areas with no access to qualified dental personnel. Actually, available data shows that untreated dental caries is the single most prevalent condition globally, affecting almost three billion people.
4. Everyone is at risk of dental caries
Dental cavities is a common problem in children, teenagers, and older adults, but anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants. Worldwide, 60 to 90 per cent of school children and nearly 100 per cent of adults have dental cavities.
5. It is preventable and can be treated in their early stages.
Dental cavities can be prevented by maintaining a constant low level of fluoride in the oral cavity. Also, limiting free sugars intake to less than 10 per cent of total energy intake and ideally even further, to less than five per cent minimises the risk of dental caries throughout the life course. Fluoride can be obtained from fluoridated drinking water, salt, milk and toothpaste, as well as from professionally-applied fluoride or mouth rinse. Long-term exposure to an optimal level of fluoride results in fewer dental cavities in both children and adults.
6. It is a major cause of tooth loss
Cavities are areas of decay that end up becoming small holes in your teeth. Without proper treatment, the holes can cause further damage to the teeth beyond just a cavity. If left untreated, they can damage your enamel, the pulp in the centre of your teeth, and may result to extraction leading to complete loss of the natural teeth. Complete loss of natural teeth is widespread and particularly affects older people. Globally, about 30 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 years have no natural teeth.
7. Dental caries is an expensive disease to treat
Dental caries is expensive to treat because it requires highly specialised personnel to treat and is usually not part of the universal health coverage (UHC) in most countries. What makes it even more expensive is that professional services are not readily available or are inaccessible.
8. Develops over time
Cavities don’t develop overnight. It takes weeks, months, even years for a cavity to form. In fact, most cavities take around six months to five years to develop. If a cavity is caught early enough, one can actually reverse the damages. Early stages are often without symptoms, but advanced stages of dental caries may lead to pain, infections and abscesses, or even sepsis.
9. It’s not sugar’s fault
Despite popular belief, sugar is not the main cause of cavities, though it definitely assists in the building of bacteria and acid. Consuming any starchy food — including cookies, cake, chips, bread, crackers, pasta, soda, fruit juice, and citrus fruit — can eventually lead to cavities. These foods are full of refined carbohydrates, white flour, or sugar that easily stick to the surface of the teeth, initiating the production of acid.
10. It is commonly undetected
It is difficult to detect a cavity on your own as you can’t always feel early decay. Decay begins in the bone of your tooth and if left unchecked, will eventually form a hole, which makes its way to the nerves in the centre of your tooth. By the time you can feel a cavity, the decay has reached the nerves and has already caused extensive damage. The best way to prevent this irreversible damage is routinely visiting your dentist, who will catch early stages of the decay.