Prevention Through Education: What is a Cavity?

Most people know what a dental cavity is. It is a tiny, annoying hole in your tooth that requires you to go to the dreaded dentist to have it painfully filled, right? While this might be your understanding, there’s a whole lot more to know about that tiny hole, and because dental caries, or cavities, are preventable, it’s crucial to understand as much as you can in an effort to avoid developing them in the first place. Here’s a look at some of the important facts about cavities, recently discussed in a blog from the Huffington Post.

  • A dental carie is a bacterial infection. The cavity itself is simply a hole in your tooth, but it is caused by streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that everyone has in their mouth. Any sugars that enter the mouth are then broken down by this bacteria, causing an acid to be secreted as a byproduct. This acid causes the enamel, or protective coating, of your teeth to soften and dissolve. This creates an easy route for bacteria to enter the teeth, ultimately causing decay, or a cavity.
  • Cavities are all about timing. It’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate all sugar to avoid cavities. Sugar can be found in some surprising places, like healthy whole grains and fruits. But by trying to control the timing, you can lessen the effects. It takes about 30 minutes (after your last bite)  for the bacteria to break down the sugars to the point of acid secretion. This suggests that consuming your food in one sitting, as opposed to grazing over an extended period of time is a better idea.
  • Sugar isn’t always harmful. While the sugars found in dietary carbohydrates are what bacteria need to start the cavity process, there are some natural sugars that can slow, or even stop, the cavity process. Xylitol, which can be found in several brands of mints and gums, is a sugar that has been shown to actually prevent acid from being produced.
  • Cavities don’t always require the drill and fill process from your dentist. As long as the cavities are caught early enough, in the enamel only, then the process may be able to be reversed. Fluoride treatment will likely be recommended, considering that fluoride is a natural way to strengthen enamel.  There have also been great strides made in the development of “no-drill fillings.” More work still needs to be done, but there is a promising future.
  • Dental caries have been identified as the most common chronic disease in children. According to the CDC, about 20% of children aged 5-11 and 13% of adolescents aged 12-19 have had at least one untreated decayed tooth. Over 50 million hours of school each year are missed due to dental problems and related illnesses. That’s insane when you consider that cavities are largely preventable.

The good news is, that with a regular dental hygiene routine, you can avoid developing cavities in the first place. For ultimate protection, you should brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, twice daily for two minutes each time. You should also floss at least once a day and visit your dentist twice a year for professional cleanings and exams. If decay can be caught early enough, the effects can be reversed and future issues avoided.

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