Dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay, are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel. This breakdown is the result of bacteria on teeth that breakdown foods and produce acid that destroys tooth enamel and results in tooth decay. good oral hygiene and regular dentist visits can help prevent tooth decay. This article explains how the tooth decay process starts and how it can be stopped or even reversed to keep your tooth from getting cavities.
What Causes Cavities?
Do your teeth ever feel “fuzzy” after a meal? Do you notice when you brush and floss this fuzzy feeling goes away? When we don’t brush and floss the bacteria and foods we eat build up and form a sticky substance called plaque (plak).
Throughout the day, bacteria feed off the foods we eat. When we eat or drink sugar, the bacteria in our mouths use it to live and make acid. This acid stays on our teeth and attacks the outer surface of our teeth. Over time, the acid wears down our teeth, causing a cavity.
To understand how a cavity forms, let’s look at what makes up a tooth. Enamel is the outside hard covering that protects our teeth. Below the enamel is the dentin. Dentin is not as hard as enamel. This makes it easier for cavities to spread and get bigger. Below the dentin is the pulp. The pulp is where the nerves and blood supply for the tooth live.
If a cavity is not fixed, the bacteria can travel from the enamel to the dentin and can reach the pulp. If the bacteria from the cavity get into the pulp, it becomes an infection.
Dental infections can be serious and life-threatening if not treated. See your dentist right away if you notice any of the following:
• Swelling on your face or in your mouth
• Redness in or around your mouth
• Pain in your mouth
• Bad taste in your mouth
Who Is At Risk For Cavities?
Children, teens, and adults can all be at risk for getting cavities. You might be at increased risk if you:
• Snack between meals
• Eat sugary foods and drinks
• Have a personal and/or family history of cavities
• Have cracked or chipped teeth
• Take medications that cause dry mouth
• Have had head or neck radiation therapy
How to prevent dental decay?
To prevent tooth decay:
Know your cavity risk level
The first step in taking control of your oral health is knowing what your cavity risk level is. The best way to know this is through a comprehensive dental exam. With regular examinations, and discussion with your dentist, you will know where you stand, which treatments may be needed, as well as which changes in oral hygiene and diet may help. Once you know your risk level, then you take a more specific, effective approach to improving your oral health.
Another advantage of knowing your cavity risk level: it will also determine how often dental visits are needed. The lower your risk, the less often you should need dental visits. Find out and discuss your risk level with your dentist during regular dental exams.
Because of the huge bacteria and plaque fighting power it provides in just a few minutes a day, brushing your teeth is one of the simplest, yet most effective ways to prevent cavities. Be sure to brush after meals and before bed. Brushing before bed (after your late night snack) is particularly important because letting those bacteria linger on your teeth overnight can allow enamel damaging acid to form (ultimately leading to cavities). Also, using an antimicrobial mouthwash helps to clean away the bacteria while freshening breath.
Want to add even more bacteria fighting power throughout the day? Try brushing after lunch at work. Keep a separate tooth brush and paste kit at work if possible to fill in those long gaps between morning and night. dentists recommend the following for brushing your teeth:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and apply gentle pressure, both of which may help reduce the risk of gingival injury.
- Place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against the gums. Move the brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes, brushing the outer inner and chewing surfaces of the teeth.
- Use the tip of the brush to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Don’t forget to replace your tooth brush at least every 3 or 4 months.
Cut back on sugary and acidic drinks
Prolonged exposure to teeth of acidic coffee or tea, compounded by added sugar or even just added milk can increase your risk for new cavities. Go ahead, enjoy your coffee! But try to keep it to 20 minutes or less, and rinse your mouth with water after.
The problem with sipping coffee with cavity causing additives such as sugar, syrups and cream is that the harmful sugars stay in your saliva over a long period of time. To counter this, drink some water along with other drinks to rinse your mouth and keep saliva from becoming too sugary and eating away at your teeth. Also, try sipping coffee from a straw which helps to keep those sugary liquids off your teeth and out of your saliva.
Drinking water with fluoride, is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities.
Water is unlike any other drink, and is by far the healthiest drink available. Our bodies are made of 60% water, and staying hydrated helps your system distribute healthy nutrients, gets rid of waste, gives your skin a healthy glow and keeps your muscles moving. And–drinking water really helps your teeth stay health – especially if it’s fluoridated.
our teeth have 5 sides, and all of them need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Even when we brush every day, we’re still only cleaning 3 of those sides. So, without flossing, you’re really only cleaning about half of your teeth surface with brushing alone.
And remember, flossing only takes a few minutes a day – what else can you do for just a few minutes that can improve your health so much?
So, how do you start the flossing habit? Think of it as ‘multi-tasking’, something we all love doing. Try flossing while watching TV, or while reading a book in bed. Ideally, you should floss soon after a meal, or before bedtime, as with brushing your tooth. However, flossing is actually easier and more convenient because you can do it on the go. It’s really just like any other healthy habit – the key is starting small, and developing a routine that sticks.
It is well known that smoking and tobacco use can cause many different medical problems. Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body, and over 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking.
However, most people don’t realize the harm that smoking and oral tobacco use pose to the mouth, gums and teeth. Smoking can do a lot more than just stain your teeth – this unhealthy habit can also lead to gum disease, tooth loss, and even oral cancer.
Fluoride is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing. It can even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay. Fluoride works to protect teeth. It . . .
- prevents mineral loss in tooth enamel and replaces lost minerals
- reduces the ability of bacteria to make acid
You can get fluoride by:
- Drinking fluoridated water from a community water supply
- Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste
If the dentist thinks your child needs more fluoride, he or she may –
- Apply a fluoride gel or varnish to tooth surfaces
- Prescribe fluoride tablets
- Recommend using a fluoride mouth rinse
Your child’s diet is important in preventing a cavity. Remember . . . every time we eat or drink something that contains sugar or starches, bacteria in our mouth use the sugar and starch to produce acids. These acids begin to eat away at the tooth’s enamel.
Our saliva can help fight off this acid attack. But if we eat frequently throughout the day — especially foods and drinks containing sugar and starches — the repeated acid attacks will win the tug of war, causing the tooth to lose minerals and eventually develop a cavity.
That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on how often your children eat as well as what they eat.
- Limit between-meal snacks. This reduces the number of acid attacks on teeth and gives teeth a chance to repair themselves.
- Save candy, cookies, soda, and other sugary drinks for special occasions.
- Limit fruit juice.
- Make sure your child doesn’t eat or drink anything with sugar in it after bedtime tooth brushing. Saliva flow decreases during sleep. Without enough saliva, teeth are less able to repair themselves after an acid attack.
Talk to a dentist about sealants
Dental sealants are another good way to help avoid a cavity. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, or molars. Here’s why sealants are helpful: The chewing surfaces of back teeth are rough and uneven because they have small pits and grooves. Food and bacteria can get stuck in the pits and grooves and stay there a long time because toothbrush bristles can’t easily brush them away. Sealants cover these surfaces and form a barrier that protects teeth and prevents food and bacteria from getting trapped there.
Since most cavities in children and adolescents develop in the molars (the back teeth), it’s best to get these teeth sealed as soon as they come in:
- The first permanent molars called – “6 year molars” – come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
- The second permanent molars – “12 year molars” – come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.
Visit a dentist regularly for cleanings and an examination. During the visit the dentist or hygienist will:
- Remove dental plaque
- Check for any areas of early tooth decay
- Show you and your child how to thoroughly clean the teeth
- Apply a fluoride gel or varnish, if necessary
- Schedule your next regular check-up
Researchers are developing new means to prevent tooth decay. One study found that a chewing gum that contains the sweetener xylitol temporarily retarded the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. In addition, several materials that slowly release fluoride over time, which will help prevent further decay, are being explored. These materials would be placed between teeth or in pits and fissures of teeth. Toothpastes and mouth rinses that can reverse and “heal” early cavities are also being studied.