What is a Cavity?
A cavity is a hole that forms when acids in the mouth slowly eat away at the hard outer layers of the tooth. Cavities are also known as dental caries or tooth decay. Cavities can grow bigger and deeper over time, and if left untreated, can eventually reach the soft inner part of the tooth, which contains sensitive nerves. This can cause a toothache and a serious infection that requires a root canal. Yikes!
How Cavities Form: Bacteria + Sugar = Acid
Bacteria live on your teeth inside a film called plaque. Plaque is the sticky, rough stuff you feel on your teeth in the mornings. When you eat sugars and starches (candy, bread, chips, potatoes, etc), the bacteria feed off of them and turn them into acids. Sipping sugary drinks or munching on starchy snacks throughout the day expose your teeth to a lot of acid. Some foods, such as citrus fruits and vinegar, contain acids that are also harmful to the teeth. When teeth are under constant attack from acids, they are more likely to develop cavities.
How You Can to Prevent Cavities
- Brush after meals with fluoride toothpaste: If you can’t brush, clean your teeth with crunchy, water-filled foods like apples or celery, or chew sugarless gum.
- Floss at least once daily, before brushing
- See the dentist every six months: With regular visits, dentists can find cavities while they’re still small, and do a cleaning to remove plaque and tartar build-up.
- Sealants: Sealants are a clear coating that fills the grooves of the back teeth, preventing food from hiding out and getting stuck there. Ask your dentist if sealants are a good option for your child.
- Limit juice as well as sugary drinks and sodas
- Don’t snack on sugary or starchy foods. When you do eat them, brush afterwards.
If your dentist finds a cavity, you will need to get it repaired. Depending on the size of the hole you may need a filling or a crown. A dentist uses small hand and motorized instruments to remove the bad part of the tooth, and a filling is put in its place or a crown is used to cover it up and support the remaining tooth. A drill may sound scary, but it is much smaller than ones you’d find in a hardware store, and the dentist will give you an anesthetic beforehand so you don’t feel any pain while repairing the tooth.