Elmhurst General Dentist Gives an Overview of Cavity Prevention and Explains Tartar and Plaque Accum

Written by Dr. Scharfenberg on Jun 25, 2012


Elmhurst General Dentist Gives an Overview of Cavity Prevention and Explains Tartar and Plaque Accumulation

When I recently spoke to my patient, Sarah, over the phone, she sounded concerned about the state of her son Mark’s dental health. She explained that he had become less than diligent about daily dental care, and she was worried that he may be experiencing some signs of early decay. Mark had recently lost the last of his baby teeth, so this was an ideal opportunity to introduce some necessary and hopefully long-lasting dental hygiene habits into his routine. 

Sarah brought Mark into the office a few weeks later for his regular checkup. Our Elmhurst general dentists used the opportunity to connect with Mark and explain the importance of at-home dental maintenance. In this article, I’m going to go over the same information I covered with Mark—this may be great opportunity for you to brush up on your own dental health knowledge or review these same facts with your family.

Tooth Structure

Before we can understand how to avoid cavities, we first have to go over how teeth are structured. The hard outer part of the tooth is called dental enamel. Dental enamel is tough and durable, so this external layer protects the other layers of the tooth.

Below the enamel is a tissue layer called dentin. Dentin is also resilient and hard. However, it is porous and generally darker or yellower in color than dental enamel. Both the enamel and dentin protect the inner core of the tooth, which nourishes tissue and allows teeth to grow and develop.

Within the hollow space of the inner tooth is dental pulp. Dental pulp is soft and somewhat fragile. Pulp is made of blood vessels, sensitive nerves, and tissue.

The goal of professional and at-home dental care is to maintain the integrity of each of these layers, thereby protecting the dental pulp from exposure. Unprotected dental pulp can be incredibly painful—exposed dental nerves can make it difficult to eat, drink, and speak comfortably.

Bacteria and sugars found in plaque are acidic, and this acid wears away dental enamel and dentin. Consequently, it’s important to brush and floss to remove dental plaque. Additionally, professional dental cleanings remove not only new plaque, but also old plaque that has solidified on the teeth—this calcified, bacteria-ridden, plaque is called tartar or calculus. By removing plaque and tartar a patient can neutralize acid erosion and protect his or her smile.

Once a tooth’s health is compromised, and the patient requires a filling or root canal, the tooth cannot regenerate natural dentin and enamel. Dental decay can essentially spark a chain reaction of oral health problems, so the longer a patient can retain his or her natural, healthy teeth the better off they are. Working with a dental professional, you can develop an at-home and in-office dental care plan to preserve your smile. As always, feel free to call our Elmhurst general dentists if you have any questions about cavity prevention or your dental health in general—(630) 733-1624.