You hear about them at the dentist's office, and maybe you've even had one or two in your lifetime. But do you really know what cavities are all about?
Cavity Development: Plaque And Tooth Decay
A cavity is the space inside a tooth that remains once tooth decay is removed. Plaque, a colorless, sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth, is one of the main causes of tooth decay. The reason we brush and floss every day is to remove plaque, because bacteria in plaque reacts with sugar in the foods we eat to produce acids that can attack and weaken tooth enamel—the hard, protective covering on our teeth. Eroding enamel leaves the teeth unprotected, allowing for cavities to develop more easily.
There are three different places where a tooth can experience decay and cavities:
- On the biting surfaces of the teeth. This occurs when plaque becomes trapped in the grooves or crevices of the teeth. This is most common in children, because they often miss these areas when brushing.
- Between teeth. This occurs when plaque is left to build up on the hard-to-reach surfaces. These areas cannot be reached by a toothbrush alone and may be susceptible to decay if you don’t floss or clean between your teeth, regularly.
- On the root surfaces of the teeth. This is common if you have suffered gum recession or bone loss, often associated with gum disease, or periodontitis. It’s also more common to find decay here as you get older if your gums recede. If plaque is left to build up on the exposed roots of the teeth, then a cavity can quickly develop because roots do not have the same hard enamel covering.
How Can I Help Prevent A Cavity From Developing?
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help prevent the formation of a cavity. Try this dentist-recommended oral care routine:
- Brush twice a day
- Use toothpaste or mouthwash containing fluoride, an agent that strengthens teeth and helps prevent cavities
- Clean between your teeth daily with floss to help remove the plaque your toothbrush is unable to reach
- Follow a healthy diet and avoid sugary foods and drinks
- Schedule regular visits with your dentist, approximately every six months, for a routine cleaning and exam
- Remember to change your toothbrush when it looks worn, or every three months, because the newer the bristles, the more plaque the brush is able to remove
How Often Should My Teeth Be Checked For Cavities?
You should plan on seeing your dentist twice a year for checkups. While checkups can vary, your dentist will most likely examine your teeth and gums for any visible problems, including the development of a cavity. He or she may also take X-rays to make sure there aren't any problems that aren’t yet visible. Your dentist may also professionally clean your teeth to remove hardened plaque from above and below the gum line, as well as polish them to remove plaque and stains from the tooth surface. And don't forget—your dentist can also provide expert instruction on brushing and flossing.