Cavities. They’re the enemies of your army of teeth. Villains of good oral health. They’re the goblins that wait to scare you during your dentist appointment. But are they all that bad? What’s the big deal about these little dark spots on your teeth?
If these thoughts scare you, have no fear! We are here to help you learn a little about what cavities are, how to spot them, and more!
Read along to inform yourself and help protect your mouth from these incisor invaders!
What is a Cavity?
Cavities are damaged areas on the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities can be caused by a combination of factors, but are commonly the result of bacteria in your teeth snacking on sugars and plaque.
Does the sound of “tiny openings or holes” in your teeth sound scary? You can be sure that while they are no small issue for your oral health, cavities are not rare.
In fact, they are one of the more common health issues that people can face. Those most susceptible to these tiny tooth terrors are children and older adults, but anyone with teeth is able to develop cavities. Yes, even those with the pearliest whites may have some, if the hard tissues of their teeth break down.
Do I Have a Cavity?
There are a few obvious signs of a cavity, but some people may need an x-ray to determine if they actually have one or not. This list should help you decipher if you have cavity problems on your hands:
- Sensitivity: If you are in the intermediate stages of developing cavities, you may notice sensitivity to the temperature, sugar content, or acidity of different foods. This is due to that outer enamel layer of your teeth being compromised, exposing those nerve channels that dentin does not protect on its own.
- Pain While Chewing: Similar to sensitivity, this kind of pain may not come from what your food contains or its temperature but rather from swelling inside the pulp. If you feel sudden pain while biting down, this may be a sign of cavity-related swelling in your inner tooth.
- Dark Spots On or Between Your Teeth: Yes, it may look like you have small dark spots on or between your teeth, but these are actually holes created by tooth decay, the erosion of your tooth structure over time.
- Major Symptoms: In more severe cases that have been left unattended, one may notice excruciating tooth pain, issues chewing, broken teeth, weight loss from difficulty eating, tooth loss, or in rare cases, abscess. In any of these cases, seek treatment immediately.
A cavity may feel like general sensitivity, or sharp sudden pain, depending on the stages. A cavity will look like brown or black staining on your teeth or possibly visible holes on the surface and spaces between your teeth. If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend contacting a dental professional to schedule an exam.
What Causes Cavities?
Cavities can develop from everyday activities, and at times, lack of healthy routines. So what types of things cause cavities? There are a few different causes of cavities, but to answer in two words: tooth decay.
Let’s get into the details. Here is the build-up breakdown.
The Problem with Plaque
Everybody, specifically every mouth, contains bacteria. It’s an unavoidable truth. And that bacteria loves sugary and starchy snacks as much as anyone. But when that bacteria shares in the grub you eat, it forms plaque, that sticky substance that clings to your teeth like a baby koala to a tree, but you know, much less cute.
When plaque tags in, sitting on the teeth for extended periods of time, it begins to attack your teeth. Yes, the bacteria found in plaque returns the favor for sugary snacks by releasing harmful acids that attack your enamel.
Enamel is the hard white covering to your teeth. It is smooth and durable, meant to stand up against outside attacks. So what happens when this tooth shield is compromised?
Without this protective layer, your teeth are left undefended against those same snacks you love so much and the layers underneath are left exposed. Specifically, your dentin is left without a buffer to outside elements.
Unlike the smooth protection that enamel provides, dentin is much more porous and soft, with channels that connect directly to your nerves, causing sensitivity. As the acid from this bad bacteria continues to wreak havoc in your dental layers, it moves onto the inner workings of your tooth, called pulp.
Pulp contains blood vessels and nerves, which can become painfully irritated due to swelling and nerve pressure. And suddenly, you have found yourself with a painful cavity and in need of intervention.
Along with the breakdown of tooth structure from plaque, you may notice tenderness along the gumline. If so, you may have something called gingivitis, which is inflammation of the gums that may cause or worsen tooth decay and cavities.
Food and Drinks
Like we mentioned earlier, sugary and starchy foods love to cling to teeth. Consuming things like cake, candy, cookies, juice, chips, and soda will increase your chances of plaque build-up and eventual cavities.
Frequency of Eating
Eating several meals a day does not keep the cavities away. On the contrary, keeping a steady stream of snacks and drinks moving through and around your teeth means more bait for bacteria and the harmful acids they produce. If you’re going to eat or drink throughout the day, opt for water and foods low in sugar and starch.
Frequency of Brushing
Plaque sets up camp quickly and, especially if you eat frequently, you need to brush your teeth soon after to discourage that plaque from settling on your teeth. In addition to brushing frequently, make sure to give each tooth attention, brushing for at least 2 minutes each time.
Location of Teeth
If you rub your tongue along your teeth, you may notice that the teeth in the back consist of more surface area, ridges, and grooves. While these features help you chew tougher foods, they are also great places for food to become trapped and playgrounds for bacteria. In contrast, they are more difficult for your toothbrush to clean than the smaller, smoother teeth up front.
The ritual of repeated vomiting is harmful not only to the body, but also teeth. As stomach acid frequently passes by your teeth, it wears on the enamel (much like the acid from normal bacteria), and exacerbates the breakdown of your tooth structure. Additionally, anorexia and bulimia can affect saliva production, which is your body's natural way of washing over your teeth. If you or anyone you know suffers from such a disorder, check out this site for help.
With similar effects to eating disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes reflux, wearing away the enamel of your teeth and causing significant tooth damage. This exposes more of the dentin to attack by bacteria, creating tooth decay. Your dentist may recommend that you consult your doctor to see if gastric reflux is the cause of your enamel loss.
We’ve already covered the importance of brushing your teeth after eating, but what about those who cannot brush for themselves? As comforting as it can be for a baby to end the evening with warm milk, formula, or their favorite juice-box, remember that baby teeth need the same care as adult teeth. Any foods or drinks given, especially these sugary ones, need to be followed with a brushing.
Lack of Fluoride
This not-so-secret weapon is key to protecting your teeth. While brushing is clearly recommended, it is not enough to simply clean your teeth. They must be protected with a layer of fluoride.
You may have seen toothpaste labels stating that they are fluoride-free, but unless you have a health issue that prohibits you from using fluoride, find an anticavity toothpaste with the right amount of fluoride to help protect your teeth from cavities.
Dental fillings can wear over time, possibly resulting in sharp edges or gaps between the filling and tooth. If these things occur, plaque may sneak into the spaces making build-up more difficult to manage. Speak with your dental provider if you suspect your fillings need to be re-assessed.
To recap a few of the causes of cavities and how you can prevent tooth decay, here are a few quick tips:
- Floss. Rather than relying on just brushing the bacteria away, get in between those hard-to-clean gaps with floss, too. Tie up your oral care routine by making sure to floss each time you brush and after eating certain foods.
- Replace Sugary Foods. Reduce those sugary snacks and drinks and up your fiber intake. Foods like apples, carrots, and celery are gently abrasive and can help clean bacteria from your teeth.
- Visit your Dentist Regularly. Part of the routine for a healthy mouth is regularly scheduled visits with a dental professional. Make sure to get cleanings and exams as recommended by your dentist.
Cavities can be tough, but they’re easy enough to prevent if you follow the above tips!
Cavities are even easier to keep at bay with the right anticavity toothpaste. Twice’s anticavity toothpastes are formulated with safe, scientifically-proven ingredients that not only help clean your mouth, but also help to strengthen your enamel, whiten your teeth, and provide sensitivity relief, all while being vegan and affordable! It’s an easy, sustainable, and minty fresh way to keep your oral wellness in tip top shape.
Use this information and these tips to your advantage. Make the small changes and regular appointments necessary to keep your smile healthy!