Tooth cavities are a common problem, but they are also preventable. A cavity is formed by permanent damage being caused to the hard surface of a tooth. Bacteria in the mouth, snacking on certain foods, sugary drinks and poor oral hygiene can cause these small holes to form.
Cavities are a common health problem for teenagers, and adults, however children and even babies can get cavities if parents don’t look after their teeth.
Left untreated cavities will usually only get worse. Cavities can cause infection, tooth decay and tooth loss. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to prevent your teeth from getting cavities.
Types of cavities
Cavities are caused by decaying areas on the surface of a tooth that develop into holes. There are different types of cavities:
- Smooth surface cavities: These usually occur on the sides of a tooth. Smooth surface cavities can be caused by not brushing or flossing in between each tooth.
- Root cavities: These occur near the bottom of the tooth enamel close to the gums. These can be caused by bacteria in the mouth and poor oral hygiene habits.
- Pit and Fissure cavities: These occur on the grooves in the surface of your teeth. Some teeth are more prone to cavities if food sits for a long time on the top of the teeth.
How do cavities form?
Bacteria cover all areas of our mouths including our teeth, gums, tongue and walls of our mouth. Not all types of bacteria are bad but cavities are formed when bacteria that use the sugars in foods make acid and that acid leads to tooth decay.
This is why sugary foods and snacks can cause cavities. It’s also why flossing and brushing regularly is so important. Dental plaque forms in the mouth naturally. These good oral hygiene habits help rid the mouth of the bad bacteria that hang around on plaque and the foods they use to attack our teeth.
Can you prevent a cavity from forming?
Teeth that have been exposed to acid – through a lack of brushing or too much sugar – usually develop white spots where our enamel starts to lose minerals from bacteria. This is a sign that early decay is happening and the tooth may get a cavity if the health of the tooth doesn’t improve.
Enamel can actually repair itself through minerals found in saliva and fluoride. However, if tooth decay continues, the enamel will lose more minerals and a hole, or cavity will form.
What are the symptoms of a tooth cavity?
You may not have any symptoms of early tooth decay, which is why it’s so important to brush and floss your teeth. As tooth decay gets larger you may experience:
- Toothache that comes and goes in the same spot
- Tooth sensitivity
- Sharp pain when you eat or drink sweet or hot or cold items
- White or brown stains or spots on the surface of a tooth
- Pain when biting down
- Visible holes in your tooth
What oral hygiene habits will help prevent cavities?
Preventing cavities largely comes down to practising good oral hygiene habits and avoiding a diet high in sugar. Here are some ways you can improve the health of your teeth and prevent cavities.
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Brushing your teeth twice a day is important for dislodging food and plaque from your mouth. For best results use a fluoride toothpaste as fluoride helps to rid your mouth of acids and strengthens your enamel.
- Along with brushing you should floss in-between your teeth. Cavities can form on the sides of teeth in places where your toothbrush may not be able to reach.
- Rinse with mouthwash. Mouthwash can be helpful for neutralising sugars in the mouth.
- Get dental sealants. Some teeth are more prone to cavities on the surface of the teeth because the natural grooves can trap food more easily. Sealants can help seal off the areas that would sometimes get cavities more easily. Sealants are a good idea for school-aged children and can last up to seven years.
- Visit your dentist every six months. Just because your teeth look and feel healthy doesn’t mean they are. A professional examination and teeth cleanings will help spot any problems that you can’t see just by looking in the mirror.
- Drink fluoridated tap water. Many cities in New Zealand have fluoridated water supplies which have been shown to help reduce tooth decay. Switch from bottled water to a fluoridated water supply if you can.
- Avoid frequent snacking and sipping. Sugar drinks can create acids that destroy tooth enamel while foods like nuts, chips and pretzels can easily get lodged in hard-to-reach places. Snacking less and swapping water for soft drink will improve the health of your teeth.
- Eat tooth-healthy foods. Some foods are actually good for your teeth, gums and jaw. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables increases saliva, and drinking unsweetened coffee, tea and water help wash away food particles.
Prevent cavities by booking a dental appointment today
If you think you may have a cavity or haven’t visited a dentist in more than six months the best thing to do is book an appointment with a dentist. At Gentle Dental all of our dentists are highly qualified and experts in preventative care. Book an appointment today.