Let’s Talk About Dental Cavities

Everyone loves to have shining pearly white teeth, who doesn’t? Not only are sparkling teeth an aesthetically pleasing sight, but they are also a sign of good dental health. The worst enemy of healthy white teeth are tooth cavities. It is, however, unfortunate that very few people know how to look after their teeth, and prevent dental caries. In this text, I will provide an introduction to processes that lead to dental cavity formation, and how to prevent them.

How Are Tooth Cavities Formed?
The outer surface of our teeth is covered with a hard, heavily mineralized layer known as the dental enamel. The enamel serves as a protective layer, and prevents the richly innervated, and weaker structures present beneath it, dentin and pulp, from exposure to the external environment, which may lead to tooth sensitivity, even infection. However, despite the strength and protective role of enamel, it is vulnerable to demineralization under an acidic environment.
How Does Enamel Get Demineralized?
The normal pH of human saliva ranges from 6.5-7.9, depending upon type of foods and fluids one takes during the day. However, if one takes a diet that is rich in refined carbohydrates, such as bakery products, caramel, and candies, and if teeth are not cleaned after eating them, these sugars tend to form a layer (the Biofilm) on the tooth’s surface. This biofilm is the favorite place for the oral bacteria, to grow, replicate and release their degradation products into the oral cavity. These bacterial products, coupled with the food debris, lead to sufficient decrease in the intra-oral pH, and once it falls below 5.5, demineralization of enamel ensues.

As a result of demineralization, the overall mineral content in the dental enamel is reduced, making it softer, and liable to fracture. Once the enamel layer gradually withers away, the softer and weaker dentin and pulp are demineralized fairly quickly. The lost tooth structure appears as “cavities” upon dental examination, hence their name.
Why Do Teeth Become Sensitive After Cavity Formation?
As mentioned earlier, the dentin and pulp are richly supplied with nervous tissues and receptors, and are highly susceptible to changes in intra-oral temperature and pressure. After the demineralization of enamel, intake of hot or cold drinks and foods results in severe pain in the effected tooth. Initially, the pain lasts for a short duration. However, if dental help is not sought, the exposed tooth may get infected, resulting in severe pain and swelling.
How to prevent Tooth Cavities?
There are a few things that everyone must know in order to prevent formation of tooth cavities:

  • Watch What you Eat! – eating a balanced diet is not only important for a good physical health, but also essential for making your teeth strong. In addition, the frequency of intake of sugars must be curtailed. Research has shown that it is not the quantity of sugar ingested, rather it is the frequency of eating sugars, which is more important. Hence, if you like to eat sugary diets, try to restrict their frequency of intake, and remember to brush your teeth, or at least rinse your mouth with water immediately afterwards.
  • Maintain Good Oral Hygiene – this is the most important. Regular toothbrush in, coupled with flossing and judicious use of a mouthwash, will go a long way in ensuring that your teeth are prevented from caries.
  • Fluoride Therapy – fluoride has a reinforcing effect on the dental enamel. Therefore, professional or in-home application of fluoride to the teeth is helpful in preventing tooth decay and sensitivity.
  • Visit Your Dentist – regularly visiting your dentist will help, not only In prevention, but also in early diagnosis and management of tooth caries.

Which Toothbrush and Toothpaste Should I Use?
It is a common misconception among people that using a hard bristled toothbrush will provide more cleaning. The fact is that dentists recommend using a soft toothbrush, which will not erode the tooth structure. Rather than your choice of using a manual or an electric brush, it is your technique and duration of brushing that is important.

Which Toothpaste Should I Use
Generally, any anti-cavity toothpaste that has been approved by your local dental association can be used. However, for people who are prone to develop dental caries, a toothpaste that contains fluoride is recommended. Your dentist may be able to help you in choosing a brand that is best for your individual needs.