Cavities & Decay

What causes cavities?

Bacteria are the #1 cause of decay and cavities. Our mouths are full of bacteria that settle on our teeth in plaque – a filmy combination of saliva, proteins and food debris. These bacteria feed on food particles and produce acid as a by-product. This acid in turn “eats away” at our tooth enamel, creating decay and cavities.

Left untreated, cavities will grow deeper into the tooth. Most cavities aren’t painful initially. But if they are allowed to grow into the sensitive dentin and pulp of the tooth, they can cause pain and infection and will eventually destroy the tooth – requiring root canal therapy or extraction.

Why do I have cavities? I brush and floss every day!

We all have bacteria in our mouths and plaque on our teeth. Some people are more susceptible to decay due to this bacteria than others. Even with rigorous home dental care, decay can occur due to a number of reasons:

  1. Technique. We will be glad to review your home care techniques to ensure your ability to be effective at controlling decay.
  2. Stress. When you’re stressed, your body’s pH can be affected. In your mouth that means your saliva can become more acidic making it a more favorable environment for growth of the decay causing bacteria. Your saliva needs to be slightly alkaline to effectively defend the teeth from bacteria-laden plaque.
  3. Diet. If you are eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates (like alcohol, white flour, processed foods and candy), you are putting your teeth at greater risk to develop decay by exposing them to the stuff that “feeds” the bacteria: sugar.Minerals. The saliva is meant to constantly bathe the teeth with minerals. It is important to maintain mineral-rich saliva by proper diet and supplementation.
  4. Water intake. It is important to consume plenty of clean (filtered, bottled) water daily. If you don’t drink enough water, your body will become more acidic – including your saliva. Acidic saliva promotes the growth of the bad bacteria and therefore cavities. The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of clean water every day.
  5. Not brushing after every meal. If you can’t brush after every meal, chewing gum containing Xylitol is an excellent way to help prevent decay. It is also important to rinse well with water if you can’t brush after a meal.

How do you treat a cavity?

Most minor cavities can be typically treated with a filling. Larger cavities may need additional support and treatment. These larger cavities are often treated by an inlay or onlay or a crown.

If a cavity has been left unchecked and untreated and is causing pain, there is most likely an abscess and the tooth will need a root canal or extraction.

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