I haven’t met a patient yet who is excited when I let them know they have a cavity. Imagine that! Understanding decay and how it destroys teeth will go a long way in helping you have a good dental examination. Tooth decay is the disease known as caries or cavities. Unlike other diseases, however, cavities are not life threatening and are highly preventable, though it affects most people to some degree during their lifetime.
What causes tooth decay?
After eating and drinking, food particles are inevitably left in the mouth and on the surface of your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth devour the food and a byproduct of their feast is acid. The acid can eat a hole (or cavity) in the tooth’s enamel. Left untreated the cavity can cause considerable pain, and destroy the dentin, pulp and the tooth’s nerve. Thus, diet and nutrition play a major role in oral health and the incidence of tooth decay.
What foods cause cavities?
Many kinds of food can cause cavities. Foods high in sugar, starch and carbohydrates are particularly problematic because they provide the bacteria with a high-energy source. Also, sticky foods that adhere to tooth surfaces are a favorite of bacteria because it is a lasting food source.
Diet really does play a major role in the prevention of tooth decay. Increased consumption of poor food choices increases the chances for tooth decay. For example, according to the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, soda consumption has increased from 22.2 gallons of cola per person per year in 1970 to more than 53 gallons per person per year in 2000! When you realize the average canned soft drink has over 9 teaspoons of sugar in it, you can see a concern.
How are cavities prevented?
The acids formed by plaque can be counteracted by simple saliva in your mouth, which acts as a buffer and remineralizing agent. A good way to stimulate saliva is chewing sugarless gum. Gums which contain xylitol have been shown to fight the ravages of decay. However, even though saliva is the body’s natural defense against cavities, it alone is not sufficient to win the battle. The best way to prevent cavities is to brush and floss regularly. To strengthen teeth and rebuild the early damage caused by plaque bacteria, we use fluoride, a natural substance which helps to remineralize the tooth structure. Fluoride is added to toothpaste to fight cavities and clean teeth, but the most common source of fluoride is in the water we drink. If you drink only bottled water, be sure to see if the manufacturer has added fluoride or you will be without.
What can I do to help protect my teeth?
1. Cut down on sweets and between-meal snacks. Remember, it’s these sugary and starchy treats that put your teeth at extra risk.
2. Brush after every meal and floss daily.
3. Drink plenty of fluoridated water and brush with a toothpaste containing fluoride.
4. Chew sugarless gum, (with or without xylitol) after meals or snacks when unable to brush.
5. Drink water throughout the day to help cleanse teeth of excess bacteria and food debris, and keep the mouth hydrated. If you do eat meals or snacks containing sugars or carbohydrates, follow the meal with a rinse of water to do the same.
6. See your dentist at least every six months for checkups and professional cleanings. Because cavities can be difficult to detect, a thorough dental examination is very important. Left neglected, cavities can lead to root canal infection, permanent deterioration of decayed tooth structure and even loss of the tooth itself.