How To Protect Your Teeth From Cavities


Dr. James Hallam of Laurentian Dental Centre Kitchener

Dr. James Hallam, Laurentian Dental, Kitchener

How does a cavity form in a tooth? First, for a tooth to be susceptible to decay, the bacteria which we all carry in our mouths must adhere themselves to the tooth by combining with proteins in saliva and food debris, and forming a layer known as plaque.

These bacteria consume the food debris with which they come into contact, and often digest it within a matter of mere minutes. Bacteria are very fond of easily digestible foods like potato chips, candy, ice cream, milk, cakes and other foods containing carbohydrates.Eventually, these bacteria need to “relieve” themselves and do so by excreting an acid which if concentrated in one area, can actually dissolve the calcium in a tooth.

Illustration of a cavity forming in a tooth.
Inner anatomy of a cavity.
If a small colony of plaque remains attached to a tooth surface for a period of time, it can cause localized destruction of the tooth enamel, which left untreated can eventually destroy the tooth and the bone supporting it.

Typical “acid attacks” during waking hours are tempered by the presence of saliva in our mouths which acts as a buffer and remineralizing agent, diluting the acid and therefore it’s effectiveness in dissolving teeth. The bad news is that our mouths stop producing saliva after we’ve fallen asleep. This allows these bacteria to inflict their severest damage to the teeth when we least expect it, while we are asleep!

“Left neglected, cavities can lead to root canal infection, permanent deterioration of decayed tooth substance, and even loss of the tooth itself.”
Cavities don’t have to happen. The best way to prevent cavities is to floss, and brush regularly with a fluoride toothpaste which helps to re-mineralize the tooth structure. Its especially important to brush and floss carefully before bedtime to dislodge plaque from the teeth so as to render the nightly “acid attacks” virtually ineffective.

Oral irrigation devices can also be helpful in removing food particles after meals, especially from around bridgework and other hard-to-clean areas. Don’t forget to replace your toothbrush every few weeks in order to safeguard against reinfecting your mouth with old bacteria which can collect on the brush.

Finally, remember to see a dentist (at least) every six months for a checkup and professional cleaning.

Left neglected, cavities can lead to root canal infection, permanent deterioration of decayed tooth substance, and even loss of the tooth itself.

Yours for better dental health,

This article has been updated from it’s original posting in November of 2012.

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