Dental Health 101 : Cavities

Woodlands Family Dental takes pride in our desire to educate as well as provide top notch dental services. To that end we are beginning a series of posts called Dental Health 101 where we’ll be covering some of the more common issues folks deal with on their way to a happy, healthy smile.

What Are Cavities?

Cavities (also known as dental caries or tooth decay) are soft spots or holes in your teeth. Cavities can can start in the hard outer enamel and can go all the way down to the root of a tooth.

What Causes Cavities?

We all have various strains of bacteria in our mouths and they all need to eat. Whenever certain types of bacteria eat fermentable carbohydrates like sucrose, fructose and glucose (sugars) they produce acids that can begin to remove the minerals that make your teeth hard. Once enough of these protective minerals are dissolved, cavities begin to form.

Symptoms of Cavities

Tooth sensitivity
Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
Visible holes or pits in your teeth
Pain when you bite down
Pus around a tooth, especially when you press on your gums

Risk Factors of Cavities

Tooth Location
Decay most frequently occurs in your back teeth (molars and premolars). These teeth have lots of grooves, pits and crannies that are great for grinding food — but they can also collect food particles.

Certain Foods and Drinks
Foods that cling to your teeth for a long time, such as milk, ice cream, honey, table sugar, soda, raisins and other dried fruit, cake, cookies, hard candy, breath mints, dry cereal and chips, are more likely to cause decay than are foods that are easily washed away by saliva.

Frequent Snacking or Sipping
When you steadily snack or sip sodas, you give mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attack your teeth and wear them down.

Bedtime Infant Feeding
Parents and caregivers are encouraged not to give babies bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids. These beverages will remain on teeth for hours while your baby sleeps, providing food for decay-causing bacteria. This damage is often called baby bottle tooth decay. Letting a toddler who’s transitioning from a bottle wander around drinking from a “sippy” cup can cause similar damage.

Inadequate Brushing
If you don’t clean your teeth soon after eating and drinking, plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can begin.

Not Enough Flouride
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that helps avoid cavities — and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage — by helping teeth repair themselves. Because of its benefits for teeth, fluoride is now added to many public water supplies. It’s also a common ingredient in toothpaste and mouth rinses.

Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva, which helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and plaque from your teeth. Substances found in saliva also help counter the acid produced by decay-producing bacteria and can even help repair early tooth decay.

Eating Disorders
Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities. Stomach acid from repeated purging (vomiting) washes over the teeth and begins dissolving the enamel. In addition, people with eating disorders may sip soda or other acidic drinks throughout the day, which also helps create a continual acid bath over the teeth.

Acid reflux and heartburn can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth, wearing away the enamel of your teeth.

Cancer Treatements
Having radiation to your head or neck can increase your risk of cavities by reducing saliva production, which prevents cavity-producing bacteria from being washed away. Certain chemotherapy drugs also tend to cause dry mouth.

Prevention and Treatment of Cavities

Brush after eating or drinking
Rinse your mouth
Visit your dentist regularly
Consider dental sealants
Drink some tap water
Avoid frequent snacking and sipping
Eat tooth-healthy foods
Consider fluoride treatments
Ask your dentist about antibacterial treatments

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