Cavities and Tooth Decay: What is it and how do you prevent it

A cavity, or in proper dental terminology, dental caries, is the most common oral disease we see and is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions in North America.  In Statistics Canada’s 2007-2009Canadian Health Measures Survey, it was found that 96% of adults have had a history of tooth decay. It was also found that 2.26 million school-days and 4.15 million work-days are lost yearly to dental emergencies and dental sick days. The numbers are staggering, so I’m writing this blog to educate and help prevent the dreaded drill and fill.

What is a cavity? A cavity is the breakdown or decay of tooth structure due to bacteria. Bacteria is the key word here because if the breakdown is caused by another factor such as grinding than it is not a cavity/caries.  Your mouth contains a ton of bacteria, some good, some bad. When sugars are ingested, some bacteria are able to ferment those sugars and produce acid. If this acid is continually produced and occurs often enough the acid is able to cause breakdown or decay to the tooth. If you ingest only small amounts of sugar not very often this acid doesn’t have a great affect as a tooth can remineralize. But if large amounts are ingested, there comes a point where remineralization cannot occur and decay starts.

Our body has mechanisms in place to help prevent cavities. Our saliva is probably the most important natural prevention to tooth decay. Saliva contains large amounts of calcium and phosphate, which are the essential building blocks of tooth structure. This allows the tooth to draw from this source to help in the remineralization process. This is why patients that have decreased saliva due to illness or medications should be seen more often by our dental team and should be diligent in their oral home care.

At home prevention is very important. The most important being proper diet. Diets that contain high sugars/carbohydrates create an environment in our mouth for the bad bacteria to proliferate and perform their damage. Another important prevention mechanism is proper oral hygiene. This includes brushing twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist for a professional cleaning and check-up. Brushing helps remove plaque/bacteria from your teeth, however, flossing is needed as well to remove the bacteria from in between your teeth. Fluoride is another important mechanism to prevent tooth decay. We receive it when our teeth are developing through our drinking water. We also receive it by brushing with fluoridated toothpaste. A lot of controversy exists over this topic, something I will go into on another blog of and in itself. However, its importance comes from the fact that teeth that incorporate the fluoride ions become more resistant to the acid produced by the bacteria.

It’s not all doom and gloom; however, cavities are usually easily treatable and very preventable. Left untreated, tooth decay can extend into the pulp of the tooth and cause pain. This is why we treat cavities early to prevent pain and tooth loss.  We are here to help.  Through diet tips, proper oral hygiene technique and regular check-ups we can help steer you on the right path to reducing/preventing tooth decay.


Written by: Dr. Jovan Spinnato

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