Dental Care

Dental Cavities and How to Avoid Them


Can you avoid the occurrence of dental cavities? Maybe you remember your fourth-grade health class when you learned about Mr. Tooth Decay.

Or perhaps you're just having sufficient problems so that you want to brush up on everything you could ever imaging knowing about a tooth's structure, composition, and possible decomposition.

So let's talk about dental cavities.


Do You Remember the Anatomy of a Tooth?

  • Most of a tooth's surface area rises above the gum line. The part above the gum is the crown, and the part below the gum is the root.


  • It's covered with a hard, white material known as enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body -harder than your bones. There's a measurement of hardness called the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, with talcum coming in low at 1 and diamond riding high at 10; your tooth enamel is at a 5. Over 95% of the enamel is made up of mineral content, and it's full of calcium. It is, by the way, part of your integument system, which includes skin, hair, and nails. The enamel does not extend beneath the gum line.


  • Beneath the enamel, both above and below the gum line, is dentin. This is a calcified substance very much like enamel, but a little softer. It carries channels within it that make it more permeable. That, in turn, renders it more vulnerable to decay and more sensitive to nerve pain.


  • Nobody ever remembers the cementum. It's the substance that covers the root of the tooth. Its composition is similar to bone but it has no blood vessels. It connects to both gum and bone tissues.


  • With the pulp, we're back to a more familiar component of the tooth -the soft nerve center. It contains nerves and blood vessels. It's the part protected by the dentin, cementum, and enamel.


How Does the Body Protect against Dental Cavities?

Nature does protect you against dental cavities with our saliva. It's 98% water, but the last two percent contains a mixture of mucous, enzymes, and even a skin growth factor. But what's important for your teeth, however, is its protein, calcium, and phosphates, all of which help to protect the integrity of the enamel.

There is a good thing-bad thing component to the saliva. On the good side, if you've been eating and you have lots of food particles stuck to your teeth, the saliva moves them along -it would seem to be a natural tooth cleaner.

However, and this is a big however, it also contributes to the formation of plaque biofilm that sticks to your teeth. If you don't brush and the biofilm becomes too thick, the saliva cannot work to replenish your teeth's natural minerals.

Just as certainly as you have saliva in your mouth, you also have millions or even billions of bacteria. No matter how much you brush and rinse your teeth, bacteria are a natural component of your mouth. You can't avoid them or eliminate them, but there are certain things you can do to minimize their impact.

The dental plaque serves as the perfect medium for bacteria to thrive. But only some types of bacteria are harmful to your teeth and can cause dental cavities. Plus, the levels of bacteria vary in different places in the mouth. That's because the saliva flows more freely in some parts of the mouth and more slowly in other parts.

Also, some teeth -such as molars- are more prone to keeping food trapped in them. Plaque also accumulates along your gum line, and it collects where you have fillings, crowns, or braces. It can pool -and create a bacterial pool- in the grooves of the teeth.

What if you have too little saliva? Many people suffer from xerostomia, a condition which means dry mouth, and it makes protecting your teeth more difficult. You will be more likely to develop cavities. It's common among smokers, and it can be caused by medications that dry up mucosal tissues. And some people are just predisposed to it.

You can fight the effects of xerostomia by brushing and flossing thoroughly before bedtime. During the daytime, be certain to drink lots of water. Chewing sugarless gum helps because it stimulates saliva flow.

Another way to take care of your teeth is to be aware of their so-called pits and fissures. They are the natural grooves and indentations on the tooth's enamel surfaces mentioned earlier. If you don't brush your teeth carefully, bacteria will accumulate along them and cause decay.

Those bacteria come mostly from the waste products of the sugars we consume. These waste products are actually very acidic, and they go to work on our teeth within minutes. As we said above, sometimes our saliva can break through these acids, but they also play a role in cultivating bacteria.

The bacteria break down our minerals -they demineralize our teeth. When the mineral surface of a tooth is breached, the hole in the tooth is called a cavity. When tooth decay is beginning, the dentist refers to it as a carie.

When there are no acids on the surfaces of the tooth, then remineralization can take place. This can stop or even reverse the process of decay. Fluoride rinses are helpful for this. Because we go through the process of eating and brushing several times a day, the breakdown of a tooth surface can start, stop, reverse, restart, and so forth.


Other types of Dental Cavities

Root caries occur when this breakdown involves the cementum, which protects the root of the tooth. Remember that the cementum is less protective than enamel, so root caries can progress rapidly, about two-and-a-half times more quickly than the caries on other parts of the teeth.

Gum recession also quickens the incidence of root caries. People who smoke, grind their teeth, or fail to brush regularly and properly are prone to gum recession. When the gums pull away from the teeth, the cementum is exposed and becomes more susceptible to root caries.

Dentists often describe caries by their cause. Bottle rot, also known as baby bottle caries, occurs when infants are left to feed from baby bottles propped up in their mouths. The liquid in the bottle -milk or juice- pools on their gums and can cause caries or severe decay.

There can also be cases of rampant caries, when caries develop along consecutive tooth surfaces. Dentists also talk about arrested caries, which are thwarted when teeth are remineralized. And there are both acute and chronic caries; acute caries develop quickly and chronic, more slowly.

To avoid dental cavities, we can't overstate the importance of dental examination with explorers and x-rays to check the teeth regularly!

Read on for more dental cavities information about the causes and risk factors of dental cavities, your treatment options, and just exactly what you can do in terms of preventive measures.



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