Dental caries, or cavity formation, results from the gradual deterioration of the enamel, dentine, and finally the tooth pulp. It is due to many contributing factors. However, the action of microorganisms on fermentable carbohydrates contained within adherent accumulations on the tooth surface called plaques produce acids which appear to initiate the process. The ensuing bacterial invasion leads to continued destruction of the enamel, the dentine, and finally cavitation of the tooth.
In the USA, tooth decay is five times as common as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever in 5- to 17-year-olds, and 78% of 17-year-olds have experienced tooth decay.
In 1993, 19% of eight-year olds in the UK had tooth decay, against 53% of 12 year-olds, according to the 10-yearly survey of more than 17,000 pupils. By age 15, 37% percent of children were free from decay, as opposed to 7 percent in 1983. 30% of 15 year-olds had active, untreated decay compared to 42 percent in 1983. Only 7% of children had suffered a tooth extraction by age 15, compared with 24% in 1983.
A 1994 British study of tooth decay among 12-year-olds in 90 countries found that throughout the world, dental decay rises proportionally with sugar consumption. But when researchers examined data from 29 industrialized nations, there was no evidence of a link between sugar and tooth decay. These results suggest that in addition to sugar, other factors -- including improved diet, fluoridated water and even genetics -- play an important role in reducing tooth decay.