Cavities start as tiny holes in your teeth. Initially, they are so small that you may not even know that they exist. Unfortunately, over time, cavities tend to increase in size and cause pain. Understanding the cause of cavities can help you avoid this common dental problem.

Plaque Is the Enemy

The enamel, the outer hard covering of your teeth, helps protect your teeth from damage. Although enamel is very tough, it’s no match for cavity-causing plaque. Plaque is a transparent, sticky bacterial film that forms on teeth. When you eat or drink, plaque combines with sugars in foods and beverages to produce acids that attack and destroy tooth enamel. If tooth decay is not detected immediately, it can eventually eat away at the dentin and pulp under the enamel.

What Are the Symptoms?

Cavity symptoms include toothaches, sensitivity and small holes or pits in tooth enamel. You may not experience any of these symptoms if the cavity is detected when it is small. If the decay reaches the dentin or pulp, symptoms will worsen and may be impossible to ignore.

Cavities can occur on any tooth surface, including in between teeth, but commonly appear on your molars, or back teeth. Because molars contain lots of little nooks and crannies, it is impossible to remove all of the plaque by brushing alone. A thorough cleaning at your dentist’s office can help you protect your teeth from the effects of plaque.

What Types of Foods and Beverages Increase My Cavity Risk?

Any sugary food or beverage can increase your risk, but some are worse than others. Tiny pieces of sticky candies, like caramels and gummy treats, tend to linger on the teeth long after you have finished eating the candy. Sour gummy treats are particularly damaging. Not only are these treats sticky, but they also contain acids that can destroy tooth enamel. The following foods and beverages either contain high amounts of sugar or tend to stick to the teeth:

  • Crackers
  • Dry cereal
  • Potato chips
  • Honey
  • Dried fruit, such as raisins
  • Hard candy
  • Breath mints
  • Soda
  • Milk
  • Cake
  • Cookies

How Are Cavities Treated?

If your dentist spots a small cavity during an examination, he or she may be able to treat it with fluoride. Fluoride strengthens enamel and can reverse tiny cavities. Larger cavities require fillings. If you need a filling, your dentist will drill into the tooth, remove the decayed area and then fill it with an amalgam, composite resin, gold or porcelain filling.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

Preventing cavities can help you avoid a variety of problems that can occur if tooth decay is significant, helping you avoid having to undergo certain dental treatments such as root canals or even tooth extractions. You can help reduce your chance of getting a cavity by flossing and brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Brushing after every meal provides extra protection. Antiseptic mouthwashes can help kill bacteria in your mouth; although they must be used in addition to flossing and brushing—not as a replacement to these daily activities.

Regular dental visits are an essential step in preventing cavities. Cleanings not only make your smile sparkle, but they also remove plaque from hard-to-reach places. During your examination, your dentist will look for signs of cavities. Prompt treatment can help you avoid more painful, and more costly, problems in the future.

Has it been more than six months since we’ve seen you? Call us today and schedule an appointment for an exam and cleaning.

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What Are Sealants? 

Dental sealants offer a very effective way to prevent cavities. Although sealants are applied to your teeth as a liquid, they quickly harden into a durable plastic coating that prevents plaque and acids from attacking your enamel. Sealants are typically applied to your back teeth because these teeth contain ridges and pits that can trap plaque. They are often recommended for children; although adults can also benefit from sealants. If your dentist recommends sealants, here is what you can expect:

  1. Your teeth will be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
  2. A solution will be applied that roughens the surface of the teeth, allowing the sealant to adhere better.
  3. The teeth will be rinsed and dried again.
  4. Your dentist will brush the sealant onto your molars. In just a few seconds, the sealants will harden and provide excellent protection from decay.

Sealants can last as long as 10 years in many cases. If you grind your teeth, you may wear away some of the coating and may need to have sealants reapplied more often.