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Tooth decay, which is also called dental cavities or dental caries, is the destruction of the outer surface (enamel) of a tooth.
Tooth decay results from the action of bacteria that live in plaque. Plaque is a sticky, whitish film formed by a protein in saliva (mucin) and sugary substances in the mouth. The plaque bacteria sticking to tooth enamel use the sugar and starch from food particles in the mouth to produce acid, which destroys the tooth's enamel.
Baby bottle tooth decay is a dental problem that develops in infants, especially infants that are put to bed with a bottle containing a sweet liquid. Baby bottle tooth decay is also called nursing-bottle caries and bottle-mouth syndrome. Bottles containing liquids such as milk, formula, fruit juices, sweetened drink mixes, and sugar water continuously bathe an infant's mouth with sugar. The bacteria in the mouth use this sugar to produce acid that destroys the child's teeth. The upper front teeth are typically the ones most severely damaged; the lower front teeth are protected to some degree by the tongue. Pacifiers dipped in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sweetened liquids also contribute to baby bottle tooth decay. The first signs of damage are chalky white spots or lines across the teeth. As decay progresses, the damage to the child's teeth becomes more obvious.
Tooth decay is a common health problem, second in prevalence only to the common cold. It has been estimated that 90 percent of people in the United States have at least one cavity and that 75 percent of people had their first cavity by the age of five. Although anyone can have a problem with tooth decay, children are at particularly high risk. The good news is the number of children with cavities in the United States went down in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Some estimates are that as of the early 2000s cavities among adolescents have been reduced by nearly 40 percent. This rate decrease is explained in part by the fact that more areas have added fluoride to their drinking water and more children get regular, good dental care. However, children still drinking from a bottle anytime after their first birthday are more likely to have tooth decay.
Author Info: Tish Davidson A.M., Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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