We’ve all heard the same things since early childhood: “Candy gives you cavities! Brush your teeth twice a day, or you’ll get cavities!” And now, we likely tell our own children the same thing. But do we really understand cavities as well as we should – or could? A cavity can go by a few different names, including tooth decay or dental caries, but, whatever name you choose, it happens when bacteria breaks down the protective enamel of the tooth.
“Tooth decay is formed when the bacteria from plaque breaks down the enamel that protects a tooth’s vitality,” explained Dr. Alison Llewelyn at Meadow Creek Family Dentistry of Spartanburg.
You might assume all cavities are alike, but oral health professionals classify them differently. Coronal cavities, the most common, are typically located on the chewing surfaces and between the teeth. Root cavities, which are more common as patients get older, form when the gums recede later in life, exposing the root and making it more susceptible to decay. A third type is recurrent decay around dental work, such as crowns and fillings. Since dental work can accumulate plaque easily, these areas are prone to further issues.
Perhaps you are running your tongue nervously around your teeth and thinking, “Well, I should be OK because I don’t really eat sweets.” While avoiding sugar is a great way to prevent cavities, eating candy and cake is unfortunately not the only way your teeth can build up dangerous plaque.
“Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates or are acidic can also cause you to be more prone to cavities,” noted Dr. Llewelyn. “Your oral hygiene also plays a big part in healthy teeth and gums.”
However, even with the best oral hygiene, cavities sometimes happen. As soon as patients experience any kind of pain or discomfort, it’s important to see a dentist right away.
“Cavities are very serious,” said Dr. Llewelyn. “Left untreated, a cavity can destroy the tooth and kill the delicate nerves at its center, which may result in an abscess, an area of infection at the root. Once an abscess forms, it can only be treated with a root canal or by extracting the tooth.”
The time-tested advice applies here, of course – patients should brush twice a day, floss daily and visit their dentist twice a year. And don’t forget the fluoride. Whether it’s in your tap water, mouthwash or toothpaste, fluoride plays an important role in strengthening the tooth enamel. For patients who have “deep grooves” in their chewing surfaces (making it difficult to reach with a toothbrush or flossing) a sealant treatment is a way to protect the teeth. Dental sealants are a thin resin coating painted onto the chewing surfaces of teeth – usually the back teeth, called the premolars and molars – to prevent tooth decay. The sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth.
“Prevention is key,” Dr. Llewelyn pointed out. “Remember that oral health affects your overall health. Given the link between gum disease and systemic health problems such as heart disease, prevention is an important step in maintaining overall health.”
For more information on Meadow Creek Family Dentistry, visit www.meadowcreekfamilydentistry.com or call 864-707-9283.
By Denise K. James