Cavity Treatment & Prevention
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Cavities, or decay, is caused by bacteria dissolving their way into the tooth structure. The bacteria form a film of plaque around the teeth initially. When that film is not removed consistently by daily flossing and brushing, and sugars from the diet are added then the bacteria secrete acids. That acid eats away tooth structure. With time, that decay can get very deep, and often the cavity still doesn’t hurt. Often by the time it does begin to hurt, it could have affected the nerve which can lead to needing a root canal. This is why it is so important to have your dentist examine your teeth on a routine basis and get your teeth cleaned.
Where Do Cavities Start?
Cavities can form anywhere on a tooth, but the most common sites are in the grooves on the chewing surface and in between the teeth. Cavities between the teeth can easily grow very large and not be visible even to the dentist. This is one of the things that we look for in digital x-rays during our routine dental exams. We can see these cavities on x-rays before they are visible.
If caught soon enough, most cavities are removed and filled with a bonded white composite filling.
The decay must be removed. We always try to remove the decay in the most conservative way possible to preserve the healthy tooth structure. Decay that is detected by our diagnodent cavity laser is removed with air abrasion, preferably without a drill. Most of the time in my dental office, removing cavities with air abrasion means No Shots!
White fillings are mercury free, as opposed to silver fillings which are about 50% mercury by weight. We recommend safe amalgam mercury removal protocols when we have to remove silver fillings. This protects the patient from mercury exposure.
Drinks That Cause Decay
One common cause of decay is the acidity and sugar in soft drinks and sports drinks. Below is a table that shows the level of acidity in many of these drinks.
Keep in mind that since the pH scale is logarithmic, a one point change in pH will multiply the acidity level 10 times. For example, lemon juice has a pH of 2.0, while grapefruit juice has a pH of 3.0. Lemon juice would, therefore, be 10x as acidic as grapefruit juice. Even more shocking, Coke Classic is roughly 100 times as acidic as Barq’s root beer.
A pH of 5.5 and above will not likely harm the teeth at all. Any pH below 5.5 is bad. At pH of 5.5 and lower, a liquid will work to dissolve the enamel from your teeth.
When you take a sip of soda, juice, and many other drinks, the acid attacks your teeth. Each acid attack lasts around twenty minutes. This starts over with each sip. This cycle of acid dissolves the enamel. Once the enamel is weakened the bacteria in your mouth can cause decay.
Ways To Reduce The Effects Of Sugar & Acid On Your Teeth
- Soda, juice and sports drinks should be consumed at meals only to limit your teeth’s exposure to sugar and acid. Do not sip on them for long periods during the day.
- Limit these drinks to 1 can per day, ideally less.
- Drink through a straw to lessen contact to the teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with water after consuming canned drinks. It is important to do this prior to brushing your teeth as it will help to neutralize the acids before you brush them into your teeth.
- Chew xylitol gum or mints after each time you consume these drinks to help to return the pH to a less acidic level.
- Never give a young child soda at bedtime. The liquid can coat the teeth with sugar and acid all night.
- Always use xylitol toothpaste to protect your teeth.