According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), as many as 92% of Americans ages 20-64 have had at least one dental cavity in their permanent teeth. Furthermore, they note that on average American adults have about 3.28 decayed or missing permanent teeth and approximately 13.65 decayed surfaces on permanent teeth. At this point, you may be wondering why these numbers are so high. You may also be wondering how you can prevent cavities.
For starters, a dental cavity is an area of decayed tooth tissue that affects either the enamel or dentin layer. If the decay is left untreated, it can continue to the pulp layer where it will cause an infection known as pulpitis. There are also different types of cavities, depending on where the cavity develops. The three most common types of cavities are root, pit and fissure, and smooth-surfaced cavities.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what a dental cavity is, let’s take a look at how they can form. First and foremost, it is important to realize that cavities do not form as a result of a single action. Rather, they form as a result of multiple factors. In most cases, these factors must occur simultaneously to allow for the formation of a cavity. Here are the top 3 causes of cavities:
Bacteria naturally occur within our mouth and are not considered harmful when their population is under control. This is because our body has its own defense mechanism against the potentially harmful effects of this bacteria. Even though this bacteria, known as streptococcus mutans, produces an acidic waste product that can potentially erode the the enamel, saliva in the mouth helps to neutralize the acids and allow the enamel to repair itself. However, if this balance is interrupted, the potential for cavity formation increases.
One way this balance can become interrupted is through consuming large amounts of sugars, even those found in fruits or carbohydrates. This is because sugars are the primary source of nutrients for streptococcus mutan bacteria. The more sugar consumed, the more the bacteria eat, and the more acidic waste products are deposited on the tooth. Not only that, but an ample food source allows bacterial populations to increase.
Plaque is the colorless film that sits on the surface of your teeth and houses bacteria. It also traps food particles after you eat. In an ideal situation, plaque is removed daily through brushing and flossing. When you remove dental plaque, you remove bacteria, as well as their foodsource. However, there are cases where plaque can accumulate in certain areas that may be missed during regular brushing or flossing. These areas of undisturbed plaque tend to accumulate higher populations of bacteria and are more susceptible to developing tooth decay as a result of constant exposure to the acidic waste products.
As you can see, bacteria, sugar, and plaque are all key factors that cause cavities to form. Although each factor poses little threat individually, the combination of these factors greatly increases the likelihood that a cavity will develop. Using this information, one can deduce that to prevent cavities, the best course of action is to partake in twice daily brushings, daily flossing, and regular teeth cleanings to remove plaque from the entire surface of the teeth. However, this is not enough and managing the amount of sugar consumed is another crucial factor in preventing cavity formation.
Dr. Martin is a highly skilled dentist of 16 years, and a graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. During this time, he has placed over 500 implants and maintains his skills by taking more CE courses than required by the State Board each year.