Dental caries: a dynamic disease process


Dr JDB Featherstone
Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences
University of California
San Francisco, Box 0758
707 Parnassus Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94143


Dental caries is a transmissible bacterial disease process caused by acids from bacterial metabolism diffusing into enamel and dentine and dissolving the mineral. The bacteria responsible produce organic acids as a by-product of their metabolism of fermentable carbohydrates. The caries process is a continuum resulting from many cycles of demineralization and remineralization. Demineralization begins at the atomic level at the crystal surface inside the enamel or dentine and can continue unless halted with the end-point being cavitation. There are many possibilities to intervene in this continuing process to arrest or reverse the progress of the lesion. Remineralization is the natural repair process for non-cavitated lesions, and relies on calcium and phosphate ions assisted by fluoride to rebuild a new surface on existing crystal remnants in subsurface lesions remaining after demineralization. These remineralized crystals are acid resistant, being much less soluble than the original mineral.