What is a cavity?
A cavity is a disease that affects the soft tissue of a tooth. It first attacks the enamel, then moves inward to the dentin and pulp, where the nerve and blood vessels are found. Since cavities don’t heal on their own, they must be removed with a dental treatment.
How does a cavity develop?
Bacteria cause cavities. They feed off of food particles left on teeth and spread to form plaque. When teeth aren’t brushed after a meal, this sticky, transparent film gradually thickens, forming a hard deposit called tartar, which can only be removed by a professional. Bacteria digest sugars, producing an acid that demineralizes tooth enamel, leading to the formation of cavities.
Our saliva possesses enamel-protecting properties and can:
- Help neutralize acidity
- Replace some minerals
- Wash away some bacteria to prevent plaque
Unfortunately, the power of our saliva is limited. If you eat too many sweets and snacks, your teeth are subjected to a larger amount of bacteria, which speeds up the development of plaque and tartar. With your teeth in constant contact with acidity, cavities are more likely to form.
Tips for stimulating the production of saliva:
- Eat a fruit
- Rinse your mouth with water
- Chew sugar-free gum that contains xylitol (a sugar substitute with antibacterial properties)
Which factors lead to the development of cavities?
1) Poor eating habits
Bacteria love sugary foods. Unfortunately, the acid produced when sugar breaks down can quickly demineralize tooth enamel. This is why a diet high in sugar is very damaging to your teeth. Limit your intake of the following foods:
- Candy, treats and gum that contain sugar
- Fruit juice, smoothies and flavored coffee
- Bread, pasta, cereal and prepared foods
For the same reason, the following acidic foods should be eaten in moderation:
- Citrus fruit and berries
- Wine and soft drinks
Be careful with sticky foods (dried fruit, caramels, gummies, etc.) that can adhere to teeth and are more difficult to remove.
2) Poor oral hygiene
Poor oral hygiene often leads to cavities. For proper oral hygiene, do the following:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes
- Use dental floss before going to bed to get rid of any food particles stuck between your teeth
- Use fluoride toothpaste
- See your dentist once a year for a complete check-up and professional tartar removal
3) Hard-to-reach areas
Some areas can be hard to reach when brushing. Because these areas are more prone to cavities, they warrant a little extra care. Pay special attention to:
- Grooves on the surface of teeth
- Interdental spaces
- Gum line
- Hidden surfaces due to tooth misalignment or overlapping
The importance of early detection
For best results, cavities should be treated as soon as they appear. In the first stage of a cavity, only the enamel is affected and no pain is felt. Only minor repairs are needed.
In the second stage, the cavity reaches the dentin, the softest part of a tooth. Patients may experience sensitivity to heat, no tooth pain. Repairs remain relatively minor.
Eventually, if left untreated, the cavity reaches the pulp, which is located in the center of the tooth. This causes sharp pain. A root canal, and possibly even an extraction, becomes inevitable. At this advanced stage, the infection can lead to an abscess, which causes sharp, throbbing pain.
Because cavities can progress quickly, it’s important to see your dentist regularly.
- Visit the dentist on a regular basis for professional tartar removal
- Maintain good oral hygiene
- Reinforce tooth enamel by using fluoride toothpaste
- Eat a balanced diet and limit your consumption of sugary and acidic foods
Follow these recommendations to stack the odds in your favour. You can prevent cavities and keep your teeth healthy for life!