Dental cavities are the universal benchmark of oral health. Don’t believe us? How many times have you been asked whether or not you have any cavities following a dental appointment? A tooth with a cavity in your mouth is the undeniable proof that you have fallen victim to one of the most common diseases world round; tooth decay. This decay is the result of a bacterial infection of the hard tissues of your teeth. If left untreated for long enough, the bacteria demineralizes and destroys tooth structure leading to gaping holes (cavities) in your teeth.
How Do Cavities Happen?
The mouth is a high traffic area for most of us. We spend significant portions of our day chewing and consuming foods of all kinds. This action leads to food debris getting trapped on the surfaces of our teeth as well as the spaces between them. Our mouths are home to a wide variety of bacteria, some of which; mutans streptococci and lactobacilli in particular cause dental cavities. This destruction occurs when these bacteria break down and ferment simple carbohydrates such as glucose, fructose and sucrose in our food . The result of this process is lactic acid. This acid progressively breaks down the minerals in our teeth via a process called demineralization. When you neglect to brush and floss as often as you should, a yellowish white biofilm is allowed to settle on your tooth surfaces. This film is a combination of cavity causing bacteria and food particles called dental plaque. Tooth surfaces that are exposed to plaque are highly susceptible to cavities if left untreated. Once compromised, damaged tooth tissues cannot be regenerated. The only viable solution to prevent further damage and infection at that point are dental treatments such as fillings and root canals.
How Do I Know if I Have a Cavity?
Although self diagnosing a dental cavity can be difficult to do, the following are the most common things to look out for;
The affected area of a tooth will first appear as a chalky white spot, an indication of demineralization;
If left untreated this area will turn brown and progressively become a cavitation, a hole in the tooth. At this stage prevention is no longer helpful as the tooth tissue has been damaged;
As the decay progresses the affected tooth will become increasingly sensitive and painful;
Certain people are more likely to suffer from tooth decay due to their heredity. If your parents have a lot of fillings, there is a good chance you may find demineralization and cavities more easily in your mouth.
How Can You Stop Dental Cavities?
Seeing as we eat to live, the human body has its own means of combating cavity causing acid and remineralizing your teeth; saliva. Saliva is the great equalizer, nourishing your teeth with minerals (calcium and phosphate), balancing the pH level in your mouth and making it harder for sticky plaque to bond to your teeth.Unfortunately, saliva alone does not represent a magic solution. If it did, anyone with saliva would never have a cavity. The best way to think of it would be a tug of war that exists around the acidity levels of your mouth. One side features bacteria and their food sources while the other has saliva coupled with fluoride.
Good oral hygiene habits including brushing twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing are essential to preventing cavities by removing plaque, food debris and strengthening teeth (thanks to fluoride). Cavities can sometimes be difficult to discover at their more vulnerable early stages, meaning that regular dental visits and cleanings are crucial to prevention and treatment. Beyond this, a healthful and balance diet is absolutely critical as a diet rich in refined sugars and carbohydrates provides more fodder for cavity causing bacteria to do their acidic damage.
The name of the game with cavities is prevention. As mentioned above, once tooth structure is compromised it can be repaired with foreign materials, but never naturally restored or regenerated on its own. Regular brushing and flossing, healthy food and lifestyle choices as well as routine dental visits with cleanings represent an all-encompassing treatment and prevention plan. Although some are more prone to cavities than others, none of us are immune and should be aware of the habits that lead to them as well as those that prevent them.