Cavities aren’t cute.
People usually first notice cavities when they get big enough to be seen as dark spots in the teeth. Can you see dark brown or black spots on your teeth? These spots can grow and eat away tooth structure until they reach the nerve in the center of the tooth and cause a painful toothache!
What are cavities?
Cavities are actually caused by a bacteria. Sugar-loving bacteria in the mouth live off the sugar and simple carbs left behind on our teeth after we eat. As they digest these carbs, the bacteria produce acid which dissolves away the hard white protective coating on our teeth called enamel. This is a simple application of the pKa concept taught in first college term of Inorganic Chemistry. Acid dissolves things!
Cavities are a modern disease.
Sure, the bacteria that cause cavities have been around for millenia, but the sugar to feed and strengthen them is a modern thing. When we examine the teeth in skulls from hundreds and thousands of years ago, we find clear signs of gum disease but no cavities! We all love a little sweetness, but no one loves ugly dark spots on their teeth. No one loves toothaches. No one loves bone damage and no one loves tooth loss.
Good news! Cavities are completely preventable
Preventing cavities is as simple as starving the sugar-eating bacteria. No sugar, no acid. No acid, no cavities. What this means in day to day life is managing our diets and habits so that our teeth aren’t exposed to sugar for long periods of time.
Following these simple suggestions will make a huge difference preventing cavities:
- Eat less sugar and fewer simple carbs: Limit foods like white bread, cereals, soda pop, juices, potato chips and sweets.
- Clean your teeth after eating carbs: Brush after every meal and after every sweet snack.
- No brush? Swishing and rinsing with water can help if you can’t brush.
- Scarfing Allowed: Drink or eat sweets all at once instead of savoring them over a period of time.
- Don’t Drink in Bed: Don’t put babies to bed with bottles of milk. Milk contains a type of sugar as well!
- Remember the Goal: Starve the bad bacteria by shortening the time that sugar sits on our teeth.
How do we fix cavities?
Repairing cavities means removing the weakened, infected tooth structure and replacing it with a new tooth-like material. The size and type of restoration varies and depends on the size and depth of the cavity. If caught early, treatment can be as simple as helping the tooth by remineralizing the weakened enamel (think Fluoride). If caught when the cavity is cavitated or pitted (the surface has actually broken down), repairing the cavity may require a filling, an onlay or crown, or even a root canal. Teeth beyond repair get replaced with a dental implant.
But I don’t have insurance!
For people who don’t have dental insurance, repairing cavities that don’t hurt can seem like it’s not worth the expense. We get it. Everyone, ourselves included, prioritizes critical and necessary things first. Take this cavity quiz to help you decide if cavities matter enough right now.
- True or False? Cavities get bigger with time.
- True or False? Larger cavities require larger fillings and cost more.
- True or False? Cavities turn into toothaches.
- True or False? Cavities lead to tooth loss.
- True or False? Most people don’t mind dental emergencies.
- True or False? Most people don’t care if they lose teeth.
- True or False? People usually consider black spots on teeth attractive.
- True or False? Most people don’t mind toothaches.
Answers to the Cavity Quiz:
- True. Cavities are infections that spread unless they are treated.
- True. The larger the cavity, the more damage it does to the tooth.
- True. Toothaches happen when cavities reach the tooth nerve.
- True. Because cavities destroy tooth structure, they can lead to tooth loss if they are left untreated.
- False. Dental emergencies are painful and expensive. Most people dread dental emergencies!
- False. Most people want to avoid tooth loss and partial dentures if they can.
- False. Cleaner, whiter teeth have been shown to be more attractive to most people.
- False. Tooth pain can be one of the most intense pain experiences people have.
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