Most people you’ll run into will have at least one cavity filling. Cavities are caused by tooth decay, which is a problem for an estimated 36% of the global population (around two and a half billion people, according to a recent study in The Lancet).
Despite the high frequency of occurrence, most people don’t really understand how tooth decay works. This has to account for at least some of the tooth decay we see day in and day out in our Kennewick, WA dental practice. Furthermore, most people don’t realize the potentially deadly consequences of not addressing tooth decay quickly.
We offer a few solutions to address your tooth decay problem, ranging from traditional fillings to more intensive restorations, but the best way to handle tooth decay and cavities is through prevention.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the deterioration of your tooth’s hard tissues caused by the acids produced by oral bacteria. Your teeth are so small, it’s difficult to come to grips with just how complex they are. Your tooth has three kinds of hard tissues:
Enamel – The translucent “topmost” layer of your tooth; the strongest substance in your body, it provides a physical barrier between decay and the softer interior parts of your teeth.
Dentin – The yellowish, bonelike second layer of your tooth, it determines the shape of your tooth. Below the translucent enamel, dentin’s yellow coloring is also what gives your teeth their natural shade.
Cementum – Also yellowish in appearance, cementum is somewhat softer than dentin, and it helps keep your teeth in place.
When exposed to the acids produced by your oral bacteria, these can breakdown, forming cavities that must be addressed before serious consequences (ranging from tooth loss to death) take place.
Of the three, enamel is the most important when it comes to protecting you from cavities, infection, tooth loss, and the formation of potentially deadly abscesses. Enamel is something like a brick wall surrounding your tooth. It is made up of tightly packed mineral crystals (a type of calcium). Bacterial acids break down the “wall”, removing the mineral crystals. This is a process called demineralization. Your saliva contains more mineral crystals, which your teeth absorb to replace those lost to decay. This process is called remineralization.
Remineralization and demineralization are essentially in a race with one another. As long as remineralization can keep pace with and check the demineralization caused by bacterial acid, your enamel’s brick wall “stays up” and the rest of your tooth is protected. However, if remineralization can’t keep up, eventually the acids will make their way down into the dentin and cementum, which can cause the formation of cavities.
What Can I Do?
Tooth decay is a serious problem, but you can take steps to prevent it. The first is to maintain a disciplined and thorough approach to oral hygiene. That means at least twice a day you brush, floss, and rinse with a mouthwash. It is also helpful to rinse your mouth with water after meals, because this will remove at least some of the sugar on the surface of your teeth (which is food for your oral bacteria; the more food, the more bacteria; the more bacteria, the more decay).
It is also recommended to make a habit of swallowing your food quickly (but thoroughly) to reduce contact between the food and the surfaces of your teeth, and to use straws when you drink beverages, especially those that are high in sugar. Fun fact: it’s actually more important how often you consume sugar rather than how much sugar you actually consume. You should also make sure to use dental hygiene products that use fluoride as a main ingredient, because fluoride strengthens enamel by making it more resistant to acids and it accelerates the remineralization process, reducing the risk of tooth decay.
Finally, you should commit to seeing your dentist at least twice a year for routine cleanings and exams.
Speaking of Seeing Your Dentist…
Has it been a while since your last cleaning and check-up? If so, you’re playing a dangerous game with your teeth as well as your overall health. Cavities may cause pain and discomfort, but they just as often don’t, especially early on. Stopping cavities earlier is always preferable to addressing them once they have advanced to much larger sizes.
Make an appointment today! Dial 509-591-0515, or click here to reach our online appointment form to book your check-up right now!