We all know someone that has had one or maybe you have had a couple yourself. Often times we get them filled and forget about them, but how many of you actually know what cavities are? Understanding what causes cavities, who is most susceptible, how to detect them, and, most importantly, how to prevent them will enable you to keep your oral health at an optimum level and go from one hygiene visit to another without a cavity.
What Causes a Cavity?
A cavity is a hole in the tooth that is caused by tooth decay, so the real question is: What causes tooth decay? Most of us immediately think sugar as the primary cause, which is almost true. It is actually the buildup of acid from our diet or produced by natural bacteria in our mouths. Carbohydrates trigger bacteria to produce this acid and when coupled with an acidic diet from items such as citrus fruit and soda, promote the breakdown of enamel, the outer layer of our teeth. Any area that is not routinely brushed or cannot be reached by a toothbrush gives bacteria the chance to thrive, produce acid, and break down enamel. This includes natural grooves in the teeth, cracks, and even around the edges of old fillings that may have broken down due to years of chewing.
Who can get cavities?
Anyone can develop a cavity, but there are people that are more susceptible than others. Children are the first to come to mind, often due to poor brushing technique and diet. While the rate of tooth decay in children has been cut in half over the last 20 years thanks to sealants and fluoridated water, it still remains disturbingly high at about 1 in 4 children having decay. It is very important for parents to promote a well-balanced diet, help children in their oral care, and schedule their hygiene visits every six months. Poor oral hygiene habits developed during childhood are likely to carry over into adulthood, resulting in future cavities and potentially crowns or root canals.
How do I know if I have a cavity?
Unfortunately, cavities can go unnoticed until it has grown large and advanced into the dentin, the softer layer beneath the enamel. At this point patients may experience a “toothache”, but allowing decay to progress that far usually results in more costly procedures in order to remove it and rebuild the tooth. The best way to catch cavities early is through regular hygiene visits. Dr. Guido and our hygienists use several techniques such as probing for soft spots in the enamel, studying X-rays, and using a tool called a DiagnoDent, which uses a laser to detect the smallest cavities. Catching cavities early results in less tooth structure being removed, lower costs, and a more comfortable procedure for you!
How can I treat and prevent cavities?
The most common treatment for cavities is by filling them with filling material. While some offices still offer silver fillings, our practice only uses resin composites as they provide a more stable filling and better long-term results. Eventually all fillings must be replaced, but their life expectancy can be improved through proper prevention.
With that, let’s discuss prevention. Brushing in a circular motion with fluoridated toothpaste for two minutes at least twice per day or twenty minutes after every meal is the best way for you to prevent tooth decay and cavities (don’t forget daily flossing). It is also important to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, especially one that limits soda and keeps carbohydrates at a moderate level. Finally, your routine hygiene checkups allow you to find out how well you are doing and gain advice for areas that need improvement. Our hygienists can remove bacteria in areas you cannot reach as well as show you how to brush those hard to reach spots. Call us today if you have any questions or concerns about your oral hygiene and to learn how you can be proactive with your oral health!
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