How Do Cavities Form?
Many people are taught from a young age that candy and sweets can “rot” teeth. While it’s true that sugar is partially responsible for decay, the process is a bit more complicated than that. To better understand how cavities form within teeth, consider the following information on the process of tooth decay, as provided by our Red Bank dentistry practice.
What Is a Cavity?
Cavities, also called dental caries, are a bacterial infection that works its way into a tooth. Like any infection, it will gradually spread if not healed or treated in its early stages. As a cavity grows, it causes demineralization of the hard tooth tissues: enamel, dentin, and cementum. If decay spreads toward the roots, the softer tissues and dental pulp - responsible for keeping a tooth healthy - can become infected.
When left untreated, a cavity can eventually cause irreversible damage to a tooth and its connective tissue, resulting in tooth loos. It is therefore optimal to detect and treat cavities in their earliest stages in order to preserve as much of a tooth’s natural tissue as possible.
What Causes a Cavity?
At any given moment, there are billions of bacterial microbes living in the human mouth. Almost all of these bacteria are harmless by themselves, and some are even beneficial to our health. A few types, however, have the potential to cause damage to our teeth. When these bacteria come in contact with carbohydrates, namely sugars and starches, they produce lactic acid as a byproduct. This acid can eat through the outer layer of enamel, allowing bacteria access to additional tooth tissue.
Plaque, the yellow substance that accumulates on teeth, is actually a biofilm created by colonies of these bacteria. By removing plaque through brushing and flossing, you are removing potentially harmful bacteria and therefore preventing the start of cavities. If plaque is not removed within a few days, it begins to harden into a substance called tartar, which often requires removal through a professional cleaning by your cosmetic dentist.
Watch What You Eat
Because diet plays such an important factor in the health of your teeth, a good way to prevent cavities is to recognize which foods contribute to them. As noted, sugary foods and drinks are largely responsible, but also consider that even traditionally healthy foods can be high in sugar: dried fruit, cereal, yogurt, white bread, sports drinks, and spaghetti sauce are just a few.
On the other hand, some foods can actually help clean your teeth. Those that are crunchy and high in fiber, such as carrots and broccoli, can act as a natural toothbrush. Cheese is also a good choice, as it helps balance the mouth’s pH level and provides minerals that strengthen teeth. Perhaps most importantly, drink water. Not only does water cleanse teeth and wash away bacteria, but it’s also infinitely better than alternative beverages like soft drinks.
Maintain Your Hygiene
Even with a healthy diet, daily hygiene is imperative for cavity prevention. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, as well as flossing daily, is the best way to prevent and remove plaque. Similarly, regular professional check-ups and cleanings will ensure that your teeth are as clean as possible, while also detecting any early signs of decay.
If you are in the Red Bank area and would like to schedule a professional cleaning, consider making an appointment with us. Or, if you are already suffering from decay, we offer a variety of restorative treatments, from dental fillings to full mouth reconstruction. Don’t wait to treat your cavities! Contact us to set up an appointment or consultation with Dr. Bixby.