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World Water Day 2001: Oral health: Previous page | 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

Dental caries: a worldwide epidemic

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Dental caries(Box 1) affects the majority of populations in industrialized and many developing countries. It is characterised by the dissolution of the dental enamel and dentine. This eventually destroys the affected tooth surface or the tooth itself. The immediate cause is organic acid produced by micro-organisms present on the tooth. Dental plaque consists of bacteria and a matrix of extracellular polysaccharides produced from sucrose by the bacteria. Tooth plaque, specific bacteria, diet, fluoride and saliva are all involved in the dental caries process. In recent decades, preventive measures have helped to dramatically lower levels of dental caries in industrialized populations. The most important of these measures is exposure to an appropriate level of fluoride, from various sources, including water, food and toothpaste.

Box 1: Dental caries

Dental caries is a multifactorial disease, related to:

  • the presence of microorganisms that cause caries, such as Streptococcus mutans, and Streptococcus sobrinus
  • fermentable carbohydrates (e.g. sugars) in the diet, particularly when consumed frequently
  • susceptible teeth, such as in the early stages of development, after injury or in malnutrition or chronic disease
  • time: caries increase over time as teeth erupt and surfaces become at risk.

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