Cavities are damaged areas on a tooth which appear as tiny openings or holes. They are also referred to as tooth decay and are caused by a combination of things. If cavities go untreated, they get larger and affect deeper layers of the tooth. Cavities lead to toothaches, infections, and tooth loss.
Cavities can be found in the mouths of any living person. If you have small children and are worried about your child’s oral health or your own, below is a list of the most common causes of cavities.
5 Common Causes of Cavities
The five leading factors in tooth decay are avoidable, and with care can be corrected with an easy adjustment period. The five common causes of cavities are:
• Acid attack
• Low pH in beverages
• Dry mouth
Questions and Answers about Cavities and Cavity Prevention
Q: What role does acid play in tooth decay?
A: Consuming sugar will interact with the bacteria that make up the plaque biofilm that collect on your teeth and as a result produce acid. The biofilm of cavity causing bacteria in your mouth will eat the sugar and in turn will produce acid that will eat away at your teeth. This is the process of cavity formation. Bacteria will slowly dissolve the enamel, creating holes or cavities on the infected tooth.
Q: What is low pH? How does it affect my oral health?
A: pH is a measure of acidity. The lower the number the higher the acidity. The scale runs from 1-14 with “neutral” in the middle at 7. Tap water is neutral at pH 7. Everything we eat falls on the pH scale somewhere. Anything on the lower acidic range will erode our teeth away if left unchecked. Our body’s main defense of low pH is saliva.
Saliva is a great neutralizer for your mouth pH levels, but the more acidic foods and sugars you take in the harder it will be for your saliva to neutralize the bad bacteria. This leads to the deterioration of your teeth and gums, resulting in cavities.
Be aware of what you’re eating and drinking. A lot of the beverages we pick up are very acidic. And if you have a dry mouth you lack that natural defense against acid attack and are more prone to cavities.
Q: Does sugar play a big role?
A: Sugar is the leading factor that makes your teeth prone to opening the passageway for cavities to form. Sugars are the battleground between good and bad bacteria. Sugar essentially lowers the pH level along with acidity in your food/drinks and opens the passageway for acid to form on your tooth. When the pH level has lowered, your enamel begins to break down, causing cavities.
Q: Is snacking bad?
A: You should snack in moderation. Snacking isn’t necessarily bad for you if you are aware of what you’re putting into your body and the frequency of your snacking. Snacking can be healthy for you if you choose the right foods such as bananas, celery, or other natural foods. However, snacking on foods targeted toward children can be extremely bad for your oral health, such as fruit juices, fruits with syrup (canned fruits), cracker snacks (goldfish, graham crackers, etc.), and fruit snacks filled with gooey sugars. These types of snack food are high in sugar and will lower the pH levels, leading to cavities.
Q: How does a dry mouth affect tooth decay?
A: People with dry mouth lack the saliva to buffer the acid attack. Dry mouths allow harmful acids, plaque, and food remnants to stay on the teeth, often resulting in cavities. Acids left on the teeth due to a dry mouth can lead to enamel loss and attack the protective layer on your teeth. Dry mouth is very serious and cavities can develop very quickly, leading to tooth loss. It is very important to be proactive and have a good home care routine to protect your smile.
There are many products out there geared toward helping people with dry mouth be more comfortable and that can protect their smiles.
Cavities can be prevented through good oral health by flossing, brushing your teeth (with fluoride-based toothpaste), and using mouthwash twice a day. There are other options, such as essential oil mouthwashes that make people’s mouths more comfortable and remain hydrated. At our office we also have other preventive therapies like sealants and root surface sealants that can protect your teeth from potential cavities.
Adam Fienman, DDS, offers solutions to cavities and protection against tooth decay. We base all our decisions on a personalized plan based on your cavity risk.
Make sure you ask about your cavity risk assessment at your next dental check up and what else you can do to keep your smile healthy.