By Virtudent Highschool Intern
Oftentimes, the days before a dental visit many people brush and floss frantically, hoping this last-ditch effort will keep any cavities at bay. While this panicked cleaning may be comforting, it will not reverse the damage from any existing cavities. A more effective strategy is to understand what cavities are and how to prevent them before reaching those stressful days of desperation.
A cavity is a small hole in a tooth formed by a buildup of plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that coats the teeth. Without proper brushing and flossing, the plaque forms acid on the teeth that dissolves the protective enamel, resulting in decay of the tooth. Eventually, the decay may reach the nerve of the tooth and can require a root canal or even an extraction.
One major contributing factor to the formation of cavities is a person’s diet. A diet that consists of constant snacking on sticky foods and carbs makes teeth more susceptible to developing cavities. A better alternative is to eat foods high in calcium at distinct times rather than snacking throughout the day. Calcium-rich foods, like cheese and almonds, help promote stronger teeth and bones. However, eating habits alone do not determine whether or not cavities will form. Proper oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing every day is the key to prevention. Brushing and flossing while paying special attention to the teeth in the back of the mouth can help prevent cavities from forming. The molars have many grooves and indents and that part of the mouth is more difficult to properly clean, allowing for the buildup of bacteria and subsequently causing a cavity.
Individuals who smoke or experience heartburn are at a higher risk of developing cavities. A national study found that smoking attributes to gum disease 75% of the time. Gum disease can lead to gum recession, a condition in which the roots of the teeth are exposed and more prone to decay. In addition, patients with heartburn are at a higher risk of cavity formation as they can occasionally experience Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a sickness causing them to regurgitate their food along with stomach acid. The stomach acid coming into frequent contact with teeth can cause demineralization of the enamel, leaving the teeth unprotected from cavity-causing bacteria.
Most cavities can go undetected for a while, so most individuals are unaware they have a cavity! Although most cavities show no symptoms, they can be irritated by hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods. A cavity’s appearance is typically a small brown spot of discoloration on the tooth.
Having regular dental checkups is one of the best ways to find a cavity. Cavities between two teeth or in the back molars may be blind to the naked eye and visible only by evaluating dental x-rays.
To treat cavities, dentists may use several different techniques because each cavity is different! For mild or shallow cavities, dentists will try to remineralize the enamel with fluoride toothpaste or supplements. For cavities that are too large for mineralization, dentists use a composite (plastic), silver, or gold filling to fill the decayed area. For the more severe cases, dentists use ceramic or porcelain crowns to fit directly over a tooth.
Cavities are a pain to get fixed, which is another reason why it is so important to focus on their prevention! By attending biannual dental cleanings, dental hygienists and dentists should be able to identify any signs of decay before it gets too serious. Using fluoride treatment can also prevent cavities from forming because of the remineralization feature it provides to repair enamel. This is why at all Virtudent appointments our clinical team does a thorough exam and offers fluoride treatment during the visit. Fluoride treatment is often available during dental cleanings or with a fluoride rinse available in the mouthwash section of any drug store. However, even the simple act of drinking tap water can help prevent tooth decay! Tap water usually contains a small amount of fluoride which can aid the remineralization of tooth enamel.
With a sensible diet, flossing and brushing, and consistent dental visits, you can have great oral health and avoid the headache of cavities entirely!