On a daily basis, your teeth endure a lot of pressure and friction as you chew and grind your food. Enamel, the hard outer covering of your teeth, allows your teeth to stand up to this pressure and friction. However, even a substance as strong as enamel is not impervious to damage. When too much oral bacteria takes up residence in your mouth, the acids they secrete can eat through the enamel, leading to holes known as cavities or dental caries. If you think you may be experiencing a cavity, use a dentist near me search to find the closest Castle Dental location to have a professional look.
Thankfully, modern dentists are able to treat cavities safely and effectively with dental fillings. The sooner you have a cavity filled, the better, since untreated cavities can grow larger and eventually cause serious toothaches and infection. What’s even better than treating cavities is preventing them, which requires a combination of good at-home dental care, regular professional cleanings, and sometimes supplemental treatments like sealants and fluoride treatments.
What Causes Cavities?
You’ve probably heard that sugar can cause cavities. This is because the bacteria living in your mouth feeds on sugar. The more sugar is present, the faster the bacteria are able to feed and replicate, and the more acid they secrete. Plaque, the sticky substance that accumulates on your teeth when you have not brushed for a while, is really a mixture of bacteria, sugar, and acids. Brush it away regularly, and you should not have a problem. Leave it in place for too long, and not only will it directly lead to cavities, but it will also harden into a substance called tartar, which makes cavities and tooth decay even more likely.
Certain people are more prone to cavities than others. Smokers have an increased risk of cavities because tobacco dries out the mouth, making it easier for oral bacteria to replicate. People taking medications like antihistamines and anti-anxiety drugs are also at an increased risk for cavities since these drugs can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Older adults are at a higher risk for cavities because their gums often recede, leaving the roots of the teeth exposed and prone to decay. Young children are another vulnerable population; they may develop cavities in their baby teeth when parents put them to bed with a bottle or give them too many sugary juice drinks.
Can Certain Foods Cause or Protect Against Cavities?
Eating a lot of sugary foods and drinking sugary beverages can certainly increase your risk of cavities. Soda is notorious for causing tooth decay, and juice, although it has a “healthy” reputation because of its vitamin and mineral content, is also very sugary and a poor choice for dental health. Even diet soda is not a healthy choice for your teeth. It may not contain sugar, but it is quite acidic, so it weakens your tooth enamel and makes cavities more likely. Other acidic substances that increase your risk of cavities include tomato sauce, vinegar, and citrus juices.
You don’t have to avoid sugary and acidic foods and drinks altogether, but do try to minimize your intake of these items. If you do indulge, consume your sugary drink or food with a meal rather than on its own, and brush your teeth afterwards. If you do not have a toothbrush on hand, at least rinse your mouth with water after eating or drinking anything sugary.
There are some foods that help protect against cavities. Foods high in calcium, like cheese, milk, and yogurt, are good for your teeth since calcium helps build stronger, more cavity-resistant tooth enamel. Magnesium is also good for maintaining healthy enamel. Common sources include almonds, cashews, spinach, and beans.
How Can You Prevent Cavities?
In addition to avoiding sugary foods and eating a calcium-rich diet, here are a few other ways to reduce your risk of cavities.
Good Dental Hygiene
When your dentist recommends brushing for two minutes twice a day, they’re not joking. To ensure you are brushing for long enough, set a timer on your phone, and spend 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth. You may do a more thorough job with an electric toothbrush than with a manual one. Also, floss at least once a day; this removes plaque from in between your teeth–one of the most common places where cavities form.
Most patients need a professional teeth cleaning appointment every 6 months to keep cavities away. During this appointment, your dental hygienist removes tartar from your teeth using special scraping instruments. Tartar cannot be removed at home, so there’s really no substitute for a professional teeth cleaning appointment. Regular dental checkups are also essential since your dentist will check your teeth for cavities. If you do have any cavities, it’s best for your dentist to discover them early while they are still small and easy to fill.
If your enamel is weak or you are at an increased risk for tooth decay due to other factors, your dentist may recommend a fluoride treatment for increased protection against cavities. Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps build strong, decay-resistant tooth enamel. During a fluoride treatment, your dentist paints a special fluoride preparation on your teeth, leaves it in place for a few minutes, and then rinses it away.
Sealants are often recommended for children and teens. They are plastic seals that are placed in the deep grooves of the back molars, providing a physical barrier between the tooth enamel and the contents of the mouth. Sealants are very effective in preventing cavities when kids are still developing good tooth brushing habits and may not do the best job of reaching these back teeth.
How Are Cavities Detected and Treated?
Cavities don’t usually cause symptoms until they are pretty large, so it is important to schedule regular checkups with your dentist. During these checkups, your dentist will examine your teeth with a magnifying glass and probe, and they will also take x-rays to help locate cavities between the teeth.
When cavities are detected early, your dentist can generally treat them by removing the decaying tooth material and filling the hole with a hard substance. There are a couple of different materials often used for fillings:
- Metal amalgam is the least expensive filling material, but it has a “metallic” look and is therefore usually only used in the back teeth where the fillings can’t be seen.
- Composite resin is a tooth-colored material most commonly used on modern fillings. Once the filling is in place, you should not be able to distinguish it from your natural tooth.
The process of getting a filling is pretty painless. Your dentist will administer a local anesthetic to make sure you do not feel a thing while your tooth is being drilled and filled. You may have some slight sensitivity in the tooth after having the cavity filled, but this should subside in a week or two.
If a cavity is not treated when it is small, the decay can spread, eventually leading to a toothache, sensitivity to heat and cold, and the appearance of black or brown spots on the tooth. At this stage, your dentist may have to apply a crown to the tooth in order to protect it and add stability. A crown is essentially a tooth cover made from metal or ceramic. Extensive decay may even move into the interior pulp of the tooth, causing an infection. In this case, your dentist may need to perform a procedure called a root canal in order to save the tooth; in severe cases, the tooth may even need to be extracted.
Can Cavities Heal On Their Own?
Some so-called natural healers or medical skeptics may claim that you can heal a cavity with herbal treatments or supplements, but this is simply not the case. You can harden weak tooth enamel with minerals such as fluoride and calcium, but once a cavity forms, the damage is permanent and can only be repaired by a dentist. Do not ignore your cavities and hope that they heal on their own. You’ll only end up with toothaches and missing teeth in the long run.
Why Do Cavities In Baby Teeth Need To Be Treated?
Another common myth is that you do not need to worry about cavities in baby teeth since your child will eventually lose those teeth anyways. In reality, cavities in baby teeth can cause very serious problems if left untreated. Not only will they cause your child pain, making it hard for him or her to eat and speak comfortably, but your child needs his or her baby teeth to guide the adult teeth into place. If your child experiences cavities in his or her baby teeth, it is important to have them filled by a dentist just as you would with permanent adult teeth.
Of course, you should also take measures to help protect your child’s baby teeth against cavities. Help your child brush and floss so you know they are doing a good job, take them to the dentist for regular cleaning appointments, and limit their intake of sugary liquids. Never put your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup of milk or juice, as this can lead to an extensive pattern of tooth decay known as baby bottle tooth decay.
By practicing great teeth cleaning habits and keeping up with your dental checkups, you can protect against cavities and get the proper treatment for any that do arise. Schedule an appointment with your local dentist today and get started on the road towards better cavity prevention.