Decay (cavities) is probably the most common reason people think they visit the dentist. Decay (medical term: caries) starts with acid levels in the mouth dissolving tooth enamel. This dissolving of enamel happens more frequently in areas where plaque (bacteria) resides. These areas are most commonly:
- Pits and fissures (chewing surfaces of back teeth) in between the teeth where the teeth contact each other
- Around rough areas such as pre-existing dental work
- Along the gum line of the teeth
To prevent decay we must:
- Reduce the acid (plaque)
- Reduce retentive areas where plaque collects
- Make the tooth stronger and more resistant to dissolving acid
Caries (cavities) can be minimized throughout a person’s life by strengthening the tooth structure. This means:
- Fluoride systemically throughout childhood, either by drinking fluoridated water or fluoride supplements (ages as early as 6 months). Using topical fluoride; either varnish or rinse and toothpaste (varnish is better for high decay rates)
- Re-mineralizing products to reverse caries (for seniors and high decay rate)
- Practicing good oral hygiene to remove plaque; brushing, flossing, waterpik (throughout lifetime)
- Professional visits with a dental hygienist and dentist (starting 6 months after 1st tooth and throughout lifetime)
- Sealing small pits and fissures on back teeth so the caries don’t get started in those areas (age 6+)
- Restore caries when they are small
- Lastly, restore teeth using durable methods, so that the restored tooth can last a lifetime
Practising some or all of these will reduce the chances of one of the reasons teeth get extracted: decay (caries).
What If I Already Have a Cavity?
“A cavity” once caries has cavitated (broken through the enamel), must be restored by removing decay and replacing the lost tooth structure with restorative matter. This is commonly known as a filling. The best approach is to catch cavities while they are small. Early diagnosis is better.