It’s been about ten years since I’ve had a cavity. I rarely had them as a child, but after I moved out on my own for college, I had a string of five or six visits to the dentist which left me less than excited about ever coming back. I think it probably had something to do with months when I survived solely upon ramen noodles, ketchup packets, and sugary soft drinks. Such is the fate of the foolish, young, college student without dental insurance…and, given how things are, it’s the fate of a good many unemployed people.
Cavities happen when demineralization of a tooth’s surface outpaces the natural remineralization process. The acids produced by overly-excited mouth bacteria start to eat away at the protective enamel. Once inside, the bacteria create even more acid, eating an even bigger hole. The bacteria can infect and even kill the living part of our teeth with enough time, requiring a very painful root-canal to repair the tooth. If a cavity is not caught early enough, there isn’t much you can do on your own at home. A dentist can remove the bad parts of a tooth, and then fill it in with a hard substance, or cap it with a crown. Unfortunately, if the tooth is too bad off, often the only choice is extraction. Let’s try not to let it get to that point, shall we?
Best Ways to Get Rid of (and prevent) Cavities
Brush twice daily using quality toothpaste containing fluoride. The American Dental Association also recommends that you replace your toothbrush every three to four months. It should be sooner if the toothbrush starts getting worn out. It is especially important to brush your teeth before you go to bed. During the night, when nothing else is going on in our mouths, bacteria are forming plaque on our teeth, and acids are slowly eating away our enamel. They require the carbohydrates left in our mouth after a meal to ferment and thrive. Brushing your teeth removes a lot of the bacteria and their food source—both of which can help to prevent cavities from forming.
Flossing once per day is just as important as brushing. Flossing between your teeth helps to remove food particles, bacteria, and plaque from those hard to reach areas. It is those areas where a lot of sneaky cavities can develop. Tooth decay can necessitate a more complicated treatment, or even lead to the loss of the tooth. Flossing takes some time, might not be a lot of fun, sometimes makes your gums bleed, but it sure beats the sound of a drill going into your tooth.
Staying away from sugary foods will help prevent cavities. It’s a parenting cliché that’s been around a while: Candy is going to rot your teeth out! The fact of the matter is that the bacteria that causes the demineralizing acid needs sugars to live. You can not and should not try to cut all sugars out of your diet—it’s just silly. Sugars are in all sorts of great healthy food, from whole grain breads to a perfectly ripe peach. Simply try to be reasonable in your consumption. If you’re going to sit and eat a whole bag of candy, by yourself, in the dark, with the curtains drawn, at least take the time to brush and floss your teeth afterwards.
Avoiding acidic beverages can keep cavities at bay. Soft drinks are very acidic and can definitely damage your teeth. However, fruit juices, wines, and beers are also on the acidic side. Much like the sugar issue, it’s the frequency of exposure that causes problems, more so than the amount of the beverage ingested. The worst-case scenario would be to drink a soda before going to bed, and then not brushing your teeth. Congratulations, you’ve just created the perfect conditions for acid erosion. If you can’t avoid acidic drinks (and some of us just can’t), consume it in moderation, and always brush your teeth before bed.
Visit the Dentist
Regular trips to the dentist will help you know if cavities are forming. A typical, biannual check-up will involve some poking and prodding, by which they look for cavities and soft spots in your teeth. They are also looking at your gum health and planning which steps, if any, need to be taken. One popular option is a deep cleaning to remove all of the tartar you might be missing in your daily routine, and maybe even a fluoride treatment. Regular visits will also help you form a relationship with your dentist, and that helps them to do their job better.
Anatomy of a Filling
Until fairly recently, there weren’t a lot of options as to what a dentist might place inside that hole in your tooth. The main option is a material called amalgam. It’s been around for a long time, and it works well. Amalgam fillings are very noticeable against the white of our teeth (because of its silver look due to its mercury content), but it’s better than having no teeth at all—or is it? There have been some controversies in the last few years concerning the safety of putting something as dangerous as mercury inside of our bodies. However, the American Dental Association has concluded, through scientific study, that both amalgam fillings and newer dental composite resin fillings are very safe for public use.
The Reality of the Situation
All of these tips and advice are geared toward encouraging mouth health and the prevention of cavities. It is possible that if you are able to cut some of the damaging lifestyle choices out, and start a healthy regimen, an area of slight acid erosion could start to remineralize itself. But it’s not like a wound on your skin—it is very difficult to heal the damage done to a tooth.
Most of the time, if you have a cavity in a tooth, there isn’t going to be much you can do at home to solve that problem. I once saw a guy on television that does his own dental work with a hobbyist rotary tool. He was certifiably insane, in my opinion. Dental professionals have the tools that allow them to see inside your mouth, the knowledge to be able to tell if your teeth have cavities forming, the experience to tell you the best treatment for the situation, and the ability to help you implement that treatment. It is best to let them do their jobs.