Teeth are one of the strongest parts of the human body, but certainly not invulnerable, and keeping them clean is essential to your overall health. When the fragments left behind by the foods we eat aren’t cleaned away, they nourish bacteria which multiply and slowly begin to eat away at the layers of our enamel, causing cavities. While preventable, this microscopic assault on our teeth is actually one of the most common health issues, having affected 96% of adult Canadians in their life, and being especially common among in the child and teen years.
Do I Have a Cavity?
When a cavity first begins to form, it will likely be imperceptible, but as the decay spreads you may notice a range of symptoms. The affected tooth may exhibit sudden sharp pain when biting or increased sensitivity to heat and cold. Sweet, sugary foods can also cause a stinging sensation. Cavities can become a visible hole on the surface of your tooth when left unattended. The tooth may also become stained black or brown.
Because they begin so innocuously, it is important to get regular dental checkups as well as cleanings, so that your dentist can keep an eye on any developing issues with your teeth before they become a more serious problem.
How Cavities are Formed
Tooth decay, and the cavities that it causes, is a process that happens gradually. The first stage is for plaque to form on the teeth. This is the result of not cleaning away sugars and starches leftover from the foods we consume. These residual bits feed bacteria that live in the mouth and as they feed, a filmy layer called plaque is formed on the teeth. When plaque is left to harden over time, it becomes tartar, worsening the problem as tartar provides a tough shield for the bacteria, making them resistant to normal brushing.
Plaque and tartar are also acidic, which is bad news for the enamel of our teeth. Though enamel is the hardest tissue contained in the human body, acid from fruit, soft drinks, acid reflux, and of course plaque, is one of the few things that can damage it. When the acid from plaque and tartar erodes the tooth, bacteria can go deeper into the enamel and cavities can grow. At this stage, pain often begins to set in. If left unchecked, the bacteria will enter deeper into the tooth pulp eventually causing extreme pain as the nerve becomes pressed by the swelling tooth pulp.
Risk Factors for the Formation of Cavities
Anyone with teeth may get a cavity, but certain factors make it more likely to occur.
1. Location of the Teeth
Cavities are most common on the back teeth, or molars. These larger and more uneven tooth surfaces tend to collect food particles. Their location at the back of the mouth also makes them more difficult to reach with brushing, so make an extra effort to keep these teeth clean.
2. Nutrition and Eating Habits
Foods that stick to teeth and resist being washed away by saliva and brushing, will naturally leave behind more lasting food sources for bacteria. Things like candy, cookies, soda, dried fruits, honey, sugar, chips, ice cream, and milk are examples of foods that need more careful and purposeful cleaning to remove. Furthermore, sipping acidic drinks like juice or cola throughout the day will expose teeth to a continuous stream of damaging acid. For infants and toddlers, bottle feeding at night can lead to cavities even in baby teeth.
3. Personal Dental Hygiene
Cleaning your teeth immediately after eating is the most effective way of removing the particles that feed bacteria. Therefore, you should keep a proper brushing schedule to stave off cavities. The Canadian Dental Association recommends brushing after every meal for two to three minutes with a soft brush with rounded bristles. Fluoride is another essential part of dental hygiene, so a toothpaste containing it is beneficial. This mineral is also used in most dental offices as treatment.
4. Other Health Factors
Age also plays a role in cavity formation, with the young and the elderly being more susceptible to cavities. Risk factors like chronic dry mouth and acid reflux can make teeth weaker and increase the likelihood of cavities forming.
How to Avoid Getting a Cavity in the First Place
Unfortunately, tooth enamel is incapable of repairing itself, so you always need to visit the dentist for a cavity filling. The best course of action is to avoid tooth decay in the first place, so always brush after every meal and floss at least once a day. As plaque begins to transform into tartar within 24 to 36 hours after eating, flossing daily doesn’t give plaque the opportunity to harden, which allows you to clean your teeth more effectively with brushing.
If you think you may be developing cavities, talk to your dentist about preventative measures and treatments that may be available to you. Dentists at Smile Well Dental can offer solutions like prescription fluoride treatments, dental sealants, or antibacterial rinses for those who may have medical complications that make brushing less effective, so talk to your dentist about cavities if you have concerns.
Contact us today or call 778-340-2897 to book an appointment.