Your teeth are the hardest substance in your body but that doesn’t mean they can’t be damaged! When deterioration happens, your dentist utters those dreaded words, “You’ve got a cavity.”
What is a cavity?
A cavity is the most common oral disease. It’s a small hole in your tooth caused by the buildup of plaque (a sticky substance that grows on the surface of your tooth). Plaque contains acid producing bacteria that eat away the enamel (the hard outer coating of your tooth). Eventually, the plaque penetrates the enamel and reaches the dentin (the second and more porous layer of your tooth). This is when you start to feel pain or sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks. If left unchecked, the bacteria will turn your dentin into a brown mush!
What caused my cavity?
There are many factors that can contribute to the formation of your cavity.
- Inadequate brushing – not brushing long, often and thoroughly enough
- Eating sugary, sticky foods and beverages that become trapped between your teeth (candy, dried fruit, cake, etc.)
- Eating acidic foods and beverages that eat away at your tooth enamel (soda, coffee, citrus fruit, etc.)
- Frequent snacking – provides more time and fuel for the bacteria to create acid and attack your teeth
- Lack of fluoride – a naturally occurring mineral that helps prevent cavities and can reverse early tooth damage
- Dry Mouth – a lack of saliva to wash away food and plaque and counter the acid produced by bacteria
- Heartburn – acid reflux can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth wearing away tooth enamel
- Worn dental devices – poorly fitting devices trap food allowing decay to begin beneath them
How do I know I have a cavity?
When a cavity is just beginning, you may not have any symptoms. As decay progresses the symptoms become obvious. Sensitivity, discoloration, pain, a chipped tooth, swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, a bad taste in your mouth and a visible hole are all signs of a cavity.
How can I avoid getting a cavity?
No need to worry! There are many things you can do to reduce the possibility of developing a cavity.
- Brush twice a day with a soft bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Change your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months as new bristles remove plaque more efficiently.
- Floss daily
- Use a fluoride mouthwash
- Use a straw to keep acidic and sweet beverages away from your teeth
- Snack wisely: Try an apple or sugar free gum (the sweetener, xylitol, fights bacteria). Sip on green or black tea as they inhibit bacteria and slow plaque growth.
- Act after you snack: Drink water, brush your teeth or chew sugarless gum after snacking
- Ask your dentist about sealants: a plastic material painted on vulnerable teeth as a barrier to protect against bacteria and acid
- See your dentist regularly: They can detect and assist with decay before it becomes a cavity.
How do I repair a cavity?
Enamel can repair itself! If the damage is minor, enamel renews itself by using minerals from saliva (phosphorus, vitamin D, Vitamin K2, magnesium and calcium) and fluoride from toothpaste. You can assist this remineralization by eating foods such as mushrooms, eggs, grass fed beef, salmon, broccoli, dairy and eggs and by brushing daily. If the damage has already penetrated the enamel, a filling is needed to seal and disinfect the cavity. You will need to see a dentist for this procedure which involves drilling away the decayed portion of the tooth and replacing it with a filling made of porcelain silver, gold or amalgam.
If you think you have a cavity or you want advice on how to prevent tooth decay, call Centennial Smiles at 587-353-5060.