General Dentistry |4 min read

Knowing is Half the Battle: Understanding the Causes of Cavities

With 2013 having finally arrived, the staff at Harmony Dental hopes that you and your family enjoy the very best oral health throughout the New Year. As Dr. da Costa reminds his patients, brushing and flossing daily remains the best way to ensure the health of your teeth and gums. However, while most patients understand that practicing quality oral hygiene helps them avoid cavities, many don’t fully understand what causes cavities to form.

A lot of cavity myths get spread about what causes these oral health problems to form, which makes it difficult for patients to know how to care for their teeth and gums. So that you have the information needed to maintain your oral health, here’s what you need to know about cavities.

Cavity Myth: Sugar is the Main Cause of Cavities

More than any other cavity myth, the idea that eating sugar directly leads to cavities is probably the most widely accepted. While not entirely accurate, this myth does have some basis in truth.

Bacteria that grows in the mouth called plaque thrives off of the sugars you consume to produce acids that slowly erode away at the health of your teeth. Over time, these plaque acids can create small grooves in tooth enamel where bacteria can begin to accumulate. Once in these grooves, your toothbrush can no longer remove the bacteria from your teeth, which allows the bacteria to continue to produce acids and your cavity keeps getting bigger.

When most patients think about sugar causing cavities, candy bars and other sweet treats generally come to mind. However, sugar is found in a variety of foods, including bread, fruits, rice, potatoes, and vegetables. So most of the things you eat on a daily basis cause plaque to produce damaging acids, which is why you need to brush and floss daily.

Cavity Fact: Eating Acidic Foods Causes Tooth Decay

While acidic items such as lemons, tomatoes, and soft drinks all contain sugar that can lead to cavities, the acids in these foods and drinks can also weaken your teeth’s enamel. Once you lose the protection provided by enamel, the underlying layer of a tooth, called the dentin, becomes more prone to tooth decay. So these types of items, especially carbonated soft drinks, provide a dual threat to the health of your teeth.

Cavity Myth: Kids Get More Cavities than Adults

Due to advances made in dental sealants, preventative treatment, and the increased consumption of fluoridated water, the number of cavities in school-aged children has been cut in half over the last 20 years. However, as the number of children with cavities has decrease, the number of seniors who suffer from cavities has actually increased. While researchers don’t know exactly the cause, they suspect that more seniors have started taking medication that causes dry mouth as a side effect.

As the name suggests, dry mouth is a condition that causes the body to decrease its saliva production. Saliva acts as the body’s natural neutralizing agent against harmful plaque acids. When a person suffers from dry mouth, they have no way of naturally washing away plaque acids and lingering food particles from their teeth after eating, which increases their risk of decay.

Cavity Fact: Cavities Form More Frequently Between Teeth

Plaque builds up throughout your mouth. So it only makes sense that the areas of the mouth most difficult to clean would also be the places where you’re more likely to develop cavities. Plaque builds up in the space between your teeth where your tooth brush cannot reach. This is why practicing quality oral hygiene means you need to floss daily. Flossing removes plaque from these hard to reach areas, and lowers your risk of decay.

Cavity Myth: You’ll Know When You Have a Cavity

When it comes to your oral health, once you notice a problem it’s already too late. The early stages of tooth decay have few noticeable symptoms. Once you experience tooth pain, a cavity has progressed to the point where it has started to damage the nerve of a tooth. At this point the damaged caused the cavity has become extreme, and you need to seek immediate treatment to preserve the health of the tooth.

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