As dental care slowly becomes available all over the country, we know that it may still be difficult to receive the preventive care to which many of our patients have become accustomed. This can be due to busy schedules, limited availability of appointments, and apprehension about various healthcare modalities. This article will help you know how to provide the best care for your teeth at home during this unusual time.
Cavities are bacterial infections of the hard structures of teeth. The bacteria produce acid and use it to penetrate through the protective outer shell of enamel. As cavities progress, the bacteria softens and weakens enough tooth structure to form an actual hole or “cavity” in the tooth.
Cavities are dangerous! When left untreated, the bacteria in cavities reaches the soft tissue within the internal chamber of the tooth (the nerves and blood vessels). At this point, you may experience severe toothache pain or no pain at all (in the case of nerve death). The bacteria continues moving through the tooth to the tip of the root, leaving the tooth through a tiny pore at the end of each root and infecting the surrounding jawbone. At this stage, the infection can spread rapidly into other areas of the face and neck. In worst-case scenarios, the infection can spread into the airway, bloodstream or brain and kill you.
Cavities are preventable in 99% of cases. There are several different ways to prevent cavities, which we will discuss in the following section. Because preventing cavities takes conscious effort and consistent work, it is important to be properly motivated to do so. A cavity can literally kill you. Most people brush this off, assuming that it won’t happen to them.
Cavities are expensive! Dental treatment can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Because you can prevent cavities, saving yourself from the danger of dental infections and the cost of expensive dental treatments, you should prevent cavities.
In order to fight cavities, we need to consider the various factors in the development of cavities. Cavities require the presence of bacteria, the food source for that bacteria, the acid the bacteria makes as a by-product, and the time that it takes for the acid to damage enamel. In order to explain the different strategies for preventing cavities, we will break it down into these four causative factors.
The bacteria responsible for causing cavities live in dental plaque. Plaque is the soft, white, sticky stuff on your teeth and gums. It collects every day, all day. It contains these cavity-causing bacteria, food debris, and exfoliated tissue cells from the inside of the mouth. Plaque is what keeps the bacteria in contact with the enamel, allowing it to damage the tooth structure over time.
No, there is no vaccination for these bacteria, and we do not prescribe antibiotics against them. The simplest way to fight these bacteria is with your daily oral hygiene. Removing plaque from the teeth on a consistent basis is essential in the prevention of cavities.
Here are a few important aspects of removing plaque:
Cavity-causing bacteria “eat” simple carbohydrates or sugars. Many people misunderstand this to mean only sweets. Unfortunately, it includes both sugary sweets and snacks like crackers and chips. The bacteria will take carbs in any form, whether liquid or solid. Drinks like sodas, fruit juice, sports drinks and alcohol are packed with sugars to feed these bacteria.
The simplest way to fight this factor is to eliminate or reduce simple carbs from your diet. By cutting out sugary drinks, you can greatly lower your risk for cavities. When you do not eat carbs, you are in essence starving these bacteria.
The way in which bacteria weaken and penetrate the hardest substance in the human body is through acid. Just as acid can etch and soften glass, it can soften and eventually destroy enamel. The acid is the by-product of the bacteria’s digestion of carbohydrates. As the bacteria stick to your teeth in dental plaque, eating the sugar in your diet, they create acid that slowly eats away at your enamel.
We can actually unknowingly contribute to the bacteria’s work by allowing an acidic pH to persist in the mouth. If the pH in your mouth is consistently low, you are making it easier for bacteria to cause cavities.
There are a few specific, important ways to fight acid in the mouth.
It takes time for bacteria to create a cavity. That’s why we don’t have to floss every hour of the day. Once a day, preferably at night before bed, is sufficient to remove plaque and fight cavities.
Time becomes really important in our between-meal snacks and beverages. If you sip on a single Dr. Pepper for several hours while you work, your risk for cavities is actually higher than someone who drinks three sodas a day, but only has them quickly with a meal.
This one is very simple. If you are going to treat yourself to something packed with simple carbs, do it quickly. After indulging, rinse your mouth with water afterwards, and when possible, brush your teeth.