What is a cavity? This article will help you better understand what is a cavity, how cavities form, and what you can do to prevent them. A cavity is a decayed spot or hole in a tooth caused by acids in the mouth. A cavity goes through stages of growth and, unless the progress of the decay is stopped by a dentist, the hole will grow until the tooth is no good.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to avoid cavities altogether or to stop their growth before your teeth are completely ruined.
What is a Cavity and What are the 5 Stages of a Cavity?
Knowing what is a cavity and how it is formed – particularly how it gets started – is the key to preventing them altogether.
Stage 1 – Bacteria in Our Mouths Converts Sugar to Acids
Our mouths naturally contain various forms of bacteria. Under normal circumstances, this is not a problem. However, when we eat and drink sugary foods, such as candy, soda, fruit juice or juice drinks, the normal bacteria attacks the sugar and turn it into acids. These acids are a big problem for our teeth.
Mouth bacteria lives in a sticky substance called plaque. When plaque hardens, it is call tartar.
Stage 2 – The Acids Attack Our Tooth Enamel
Once the bacteria turns the sugar in our mouths to acid, this acid burns holes in the enamel that covers our teeth. These holes are the beginning of cavities.
Stage 3 – The Acids and Bacteria Attack the Dentin Layer
Once the enamel has a hole in it, the acid and bacteria can reach the tooth material below it. This material is called dentin and it is softer than the outer coating of enamel. Now the acid and bacteria can eat away at interior of the tooth.
To make matters worse, food and sugary substances can now become lodged below the enamel, giving the bacteria even more material to turn into acids in the soft interior layers of the tooth.
Stage 4 – The Acids and Bacteria Attack the Pulp Layer
Once the acids and bacteria have eaten through the dentin layer, they reach the pulp layer where the nerves and blood vessels reside in our teeth. When the nerves are attacked or exposed, there is irritation and swelling. This causes the pain we call a toothache. At this point, the decay and destruction to the tooth is quite advanced.
Stage 5 – An Abscess Forms
Our bodies have a defense mechanism for detecting and fighting off foreign invaders. The enamel on our teeth is designed to keep foreign substances, such as bacteria, acids and food particles from reaching the dentin, pulp and nerves inside our teeth.
When the body detects bacteria in the pulp layer of the tooth, it sends white blood cells to fight and kill it. As the white blood cells die, they form a pocket of pus along with bacteria and tissue debris. This pocket is called an abscess. This abscess puts pressure on the nerves inside the tooth and the resulting pain can be almost unbearable.
7 Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Teeth in Good Health
Now that you know exactly what a cavity is and how it is formed, you can understand how to prevent them altogether. Completely avoid cavities is possible but it is not a matter of luck or genetics; it’s a matter of faithfully accomplishing the following seven steps year after year:
1. Eat the Right Foods
Now that you know that sugary foods in the mouth are turned into acids that eats through the tooth enamel, you can stop the formation of cavities in its track right here. Cut back on your intake of candy, soda, fruit juice and juice drinks that contain sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Drink water instead. Swish the water around in your mouth to clear food out of your mouth and from between your teeth. The less sugar that is available to be converted into acid, the better your chances of never getting a hole in the enamel of your teeth.
2. Brush Often
At minimum, brush your teeth after breakfast and before bed. Whenever possible, brush after every meal and snack. The objective is to remove all the plaque that contains acid-forming bacteria and food substances from your mouth.
Brush in a gentle, circular motion all over the front, back and top of your teeth. Tenderly brush the gums, too, to remove any plaque located on or just under the edge of them. Brush the tongue to scrape away bacteria. Brush and spit out the germs continually for two minutes each time.
Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months because a worn brush cannot do a good job of removing plaque.
If you are at work or shopping where you can’t brush, at least follow your meal with a glass of water in an effort to rinse away anything the bacteria can use to create acid in your mouth.
3. Floss Often
The more you practice flossing, the better you’ll be at it. Picture the spaces between each tooth and work the floss into those cracks in an effort to remove any food particles and plaque that has built up between the teeth. Floss at least once a day.
Tartar is a yellow film of hardened plaque. If your mouth has tartar, it means that you have allowed plaque to stay on your teeth long enough to harden. To prevent this, brush, rinse and floss more often every day and spend more time at it. Concentrate on doing a more thorough job.
If you feel a bit of pain in any area of your mouth while brushing or flossing, this is a sign of a problem. There may be some swelling of the gums due to bacteria getting between the gums and the tooth. Don’t ignore or avoid this area of your mouth. If you are wondering what is a cavity and what the symptoms are, this pain is telling you to pay attention.
You may be able to solve the issue yourself by brushing that area gently and flossing there more often. However, if the pain is remains for more than a few days, make an appointment with your dentist.
4. Keep Your Gums in Good Condition
When you brush, include your gums, especially the area at the very base of your teeth. Without good, strong gums, your teeth will suffer. A cavity can form at the gum line.
5. Get Your Teeth Professionally Cleaned Twice a Year
A dental hygienist will not only clean the plaque off your teeth, he or she will examine every face of every tooth, looking for signs of cavities. As you have just learned, catching tooth decay in the early stages can not only save the tooth but keep you from having debilitating pain.
6. Have the Dentist Examine Your Mouth After Each Cleaning Session
Once the dental hygienist has finished the cleaning process, have the dentist examine your mouth. If this is not a standard practice in the dental office you use, ask for this service. The dentist, being a doctor, has more training and experience in spotting problems in the mouth and this examination is important.
7. Make an Extra Dental Appointment at the First Sign of a Cavity
Don’t wait for a toothache. As you now know, by the time you are in pain, your tooth is nearly destroyed by bacteria and acid.
Your teeth are important for good health and a sense of well being. Once the acids in your mouth eat a hole through the enamel, the tooth can only be saved by a dentist who will clean out the bacteria, acids and food and repair the hole. Therefore, every effort should be made to keep a cavity from starting in the first place.
What is a Cavity – Conclusion
Now you have the answer to what is a cavity? Leave a comment about a memorable experience you had with a cavity. When did you learn firsthand about what a cavity is and how did it affect your life?