A Guide to Cavities

Cavities are the stuff that most of us have nightmares about. We visit the dentist for our routine check-up and we hope and pray that there are no gaps in our defences. Why are cavities to be feared so much? Because if you’ve got a cavity, it needs to be filled. And that usually means the dreaded drill making an appearance.

The good news about cavities is that, in the vast majority of cases, they are avoidable. Ask any dentist and they will usually agree that the most important dental work occurs not in the practice, but at home. So if you want to avoid cavities, the most important thing to do is to start looking after your teeth properly.

First things first, let’s learn a little bit more about the enemy. What causes cavities to appear in our teeth?

Ok, this is the scary part. You may not know this, but your mouth is full of unwanted guests. They live off the food that gets trapped in your teeth, thriving and growing until your teeth become damaged beyond repair. What are they? Bacteria, and there are millions upon millions of them in there. Not a nice thought, is it really?

It gets worse. As these bacteria break down the discarded food in your mouth, they produce acid. As you would expect, this acid caused erosion along the enamel on our teeth. If this erosion is allowed to continue unchecked, then the acid will eventually eat through and cause a cavity. As well as being undesirable for the long-term health of your teeth, a cavity can also be painful – as most of us know full well. Once the acid has eaten through the enamel and into the tooth, it will continue into the pulp and tooth nerve.

That’s the negatives, now let’s talk about the positives. Cavities can be prevented from forming through studious tooth-brushing and good oral hygiene. It’s an ongoing battle against an enemy that never gives up and can never be defeated! But as long as you deploy all the forces at your disposal, you can keep those bacteria at bay!

The first thing you must do to reduce the chances of cavities is to watch what you eat – and when you eat it. Don’t worry, we’re not going to order you to stick to some unrealistic ‘no sugar’ diet. After all, we all enjoy eating something sweet every now and again. However, when you eat those sugary snacks and cakes can make a big difference.

After eating, your mouth continues to produce saliva which can help to neutralise the acid produced by the bacteria. However, if you are continually eating sugary snack in between meals – or drinking sugar-filled drinks during the day – then you are not giving the saliva in your mouth time to work effectively. So the best approach is to eat your treats with your main meals and to try and avoid snacking in between.

The second weapon in the battle against bacteria and acid erosion is your oral hygiene programme. While most of us know that we should clean our teeth twice every day, not all of us realise that this twice-daily cleaning should really be only part of a proper programme of tooth care.

You should clean your teeth for between two and three minutes each time. Most dentists agree that, if you spend this long cleaning your teeth then you give yourself an adequate amount of time to clean every surface. Don’t forget, close up your teeth are not smooth – they are full of grooves, bumps, nooks and crannies. A lot of those surfaces will require more than just a quick ‘once over’ to remove food debris and bacteria.

Brushing alone is also not enough. Flossing should also be an automatic part of your daily tooth care programme. Much of the food debris that bacteria latches onto is trapped between our teeth where regular brushing cannot reach. Flossing twice-daily is the best way to reach this debris and ensure that the areas around your gums and the roots of your teeth are kept clean.