By: Dr. Robert Rawdin DDS, FACP
Most people know about cavities because they have probably had one or two. Fortunately they take time to form. But it’s essential to stop early-stage tooth decay in its tracks, because cavities won’t disappear on their own. Once bacteria and decay get through that enamel, the damage is done. So just how much time do you have, and how can you be proactive about stopping cavities from developing?
A review of dental cavities
Yeah, this is a boring subject, but since knowledge is the first line of defense read on. What is a cavity and how does it happen? Dental cavities ( or caries ) are actual holes in the teeth. They form as a result of acid eating away at the enamel of the tooth and eventually the underlying tooth structure. It may seem like cavities practically form overnight, but they don’t. It can take anywhere from six months to four or five years for a cavity to form. How can you be proactive about stopping them? There’s a reason you’ve been told, since you were a child, that it’s important to brush your teeth. And the reason is so you remove the bacterial plaque that builds up on your teeth every day.
Plaque – the main cause of cavities and gum disease
Plaque is a film of bacteria on the teeth and they feast on any sugars or fermentable carbohydrates that you eat – anything that breaks down to sugar is food for bacteria. The bacteria produce acids that are strong enough to eat through enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body and yes, acid can eat through it given enough time. It will take several months for the acid to eat through that strong layer of enamel. The next layer of the tooth is called dentin. Dentin is much softer than enamel and if the cavity reaches the dentin it will eat through that much quicker.
When a cavity starts you have demineralization of the enamel. The acids eat away at the mineral content ( over 95%) and then the organic part is left; which is destroyed quicker by acid. The dentin is 70% mineral and therefore breaks down easier.
Another important reason to control plaque buildup is prevent gum disease. The same acids that cause cavities cause inflammation in the gums and will eventually breakdown the attachment of the gum around the tooth and, left unchecked, will cause deterioration of the bone that supports the tooth.
An ounce of prevention
If you have a lot of acid in your diet you are adding fuel to the fire. Your best defense to avoiding cavities is to minimize the amount of sugars you eat and the amount of highly acidic foods you eat.
Examples of acidic foods are wine, citrus fruits, vinegar, fruit drinks, energy drinks and carbonated sodas. The other thing to do to avoid cavities is to mechanically remove plaque from your teeth – this is thorough tooth brushing and flossing. Yes, you have to floss too!. The only way to clean plaque off in between the teeth is dental floss.
The other aids in fighting cavities is to use toothpaste with fluoride and a mouth rinse with fluoride as well. Fluoride actually helps to strengthen enamel. It is also helpful at the stage where the enamel is demineralized; the fluoride can keep the cavity at bay or actually remineralize the enamel.
Remember to change your toothbrush every 3 or 4 months and see your dentist at least twice a year.
If you ignore your teeth, they’ll go away.
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