From the moment we start visiting the dentist, the goal is clear… Avoid cavities.
But what actually causes cavities? Is it simply sugar, or is there more to the story?
In this installment of #AskDrCurrie, we uncover everything you need to know about the cause of cavities, how to avoid them – and the answers might surprise you!
WHAT IS A CAVITY?
What are cavities?
Simply put, a cavity is a hole in the tooth.
But when most people say cavity, what they are actually talking about is dental caries – which is tooth decay. So a cavity is strictly a hole in the tooth.
There are things other than tooth decay that could result in a cavity. For instance, if a piece of the tooth breaks or fractures, or general erosion.
What causes a cavity?
When people think of cavities, they usually think of sugar. But there is another contributor to the development of cavities, and it will probably surprise you.
First and foremost, the cause of cavities is bacteria. More specifically, certain types of bacteria such as streptococcus mutans.
We all have bacteria in our mouth – healthy bacteria is part of general health. But certain types of bacteria cause cavities. You need those types of bacterias in conjunction with sugar to create cavities. So if you do not have much sugar, it is true that you will reduce your chances of getting a cavity a great deal. But bacteria is what people don’t talk about.
The bacteria that causes cavities can be passed from parents to children – so if the parents have them it’s more likely their kids will too. So it’s important for parents to keep that in mind, and take great care of their teeth as well.
How does sugar and bacteria work together to cause a cavity?
Ultimately, the bacteria and sugar have a symbiotic relationship – they need each other in order for cavities to develop.
So here is something that will probably surprise you about sugar… It’s not the total amount of sugar consumed that’s an issue, it’s how you consume it. Here’s an example…
You have twin teenagers… The first one drinks six cans of pop in two hours, and then rinses their mouth with water and brushes their teeth. The second teenage sips a single can of pop over five hours and doesn’t brush their teeth afterwards. In this scenario, the second teenager would be much more likely to cause cavities. The slow and constant drip of sipping over a long period of time will feed the bacteria.
So avoiding cavities doesn’t mean you cannot consume sugar. It means you just have to be smart about it.
So if you eat something sweet, you can brush, floss, or consume something more neutralizing like an apple or cheese. That will increase the saliva flow in your mouth and neutralize the acids that support the bad bacteria. So if you are going to consume sugar, don’t nibble for hours – just eat it.
If you have sugar free gum it will help to prevent cavities. Because it promotes saliva flow, and saliva has calcium and phosphate which is what your enamel is made of, and it helps neutralize the acids and bacteria.
Fluoride also makes your enamel stronger and much more resistant to decay.
How do you know if you have a cavity?
You don’t – it’s usually something you dentist will recognize. You don’t want to wait until you feel something – by that point it’s too late.
The dentist may take an X-Ray and recommend you put a filling in. At that stage a lot of people will be surprised… “Are you sure ia have a cavity? I don’t feel anything!”
One of the common misconceptions is that if you have tooth decay, you should feel it. But the only time you would feel tooth decay is either the problem is so big that you can feel a hole in your tooth, or the decay gets so deep that is starts to cause inflammation of the nerve and now you have a toothache.
But if you wait until it gets so big that the tooth crumbles, that’s when you need a big filling and/or a crown as well. Or, if you wait until you have a toothache you may end up needing a root canal, and then a crown.
So you won’t feel cavities, and you want your dentist to fix them before it turns into a bigger issue.
How do you avoid cavities?
Here are a few simple tips to help avoid cavities:
Limit sugar intake
If you consume sugar, don’t sip or nibble – just consume it.
You can neutralize the bacteria in your mouth with water, apples, cheese – foods that are low in acidity.
Sugar free gum is another great way to avoid cavities as it will stimulate saliva production which will help offset the bacteria that causes cavities.
Brushing and flossing is more important for gum disease, but diet and sugar intake is more important for avoiding decay and cavities.
What do you use to fill a cavity?
Fillings are made from composite resin. You can place silver fillings or gold fillings or porcelain – but composite resin is the bulk of it for sure.
It is a putty, and you condition the tooth and apply a bond so that the filling will stick. You pack in the putty and you shape it and shine a light on it. The composite resin sets and firms up under the light.
Having fillings placed could be anywhere from a 20 minute appointment to 3-4 hours depending on how many teeth were being worked on.
How long should you wait to eat after having a cavity filled?
With white fillings, the answer is right away. The old silver fillings you had to wait up to 6 hours for the material to firm up.
The only caveat is that if you have freezing, you may want to wait to ensure that you don’t’ end up biting your tongue, lip, or side of your mouth.
One of the most common complaints from a patient after having a cavity filled is that the area feels sensitive. If it was a deep filling and it’s sensitive to cold, it should go away with time – but it may take up to a few months.
If it’s an actual toothache, then the filling may have been so deep that the tooth won’t recover and then you’d need a root canal. Another potential issue is the bite could be off, so you would just need to go back to the dentist for additional polish.
What do you say to people that are nervous about having a cavity filled?
At Pearl Dental, we understand that some patients feel a sense of anxiousness when visiting the dentist. With that in mind, from the moment you walk through our doors we work to ensure you have a comfortable experience.
Our staff will listen to your concerns, answer any questions that you may have, and help you understand the options available. We are also a highly experience staff capable of handling any dental challenge that you may be facing. At the end of the day, we do our best to provide a pleasant experience to all of our customers.
For additional information, please contact Pearl Dental or give us a call at 905-637-1698.