Cavities are damaged areas in the hard surface of teeth that decay over time into tiny openings or holes. Cavities, also called dental caries, can be caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in the mouth, frequent snacking or sipping of sugary drinks, inadequate dental hygiene, and a pH imbalance in the mouth.
Bacteria are normally found in every mouth. This bacteria feasts on the sugars and starches in what we eat and drink, and turns the food into tooth-decaying acidic plaque. Within 20 minutes of eating, plaque begins to build up on teeth. This sticky substance is formed of bacteria, acid, food, and saliva, and is most commonly found just above the gumline.
Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, but the acids in pH-imbalanced saliva are even stronger. The acids in plaque act like lots of tiny chemical drills that bore holes into tooth enamel. This chemical “drilling” is called tooth decay, which is a common progressive (and preventable) disease.
How common are cavities?
Tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease, more common than asthma or diabetes.
One national survey shows that 37% of all children between the ages of two to eight years old had cavities in their primary teeth. Even more worrisome, 58% of teenagers had cavities in their permanent teeth.
The Holes Cavities Leave
The holes cavities leave aren’t just in teeth, as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry notes that the costs of tooth decay aren’t just limited to paying for treatment. When cavities and decay become severe, you may have:
- Pain that interferes with daily living
- Missed days of school and reduced participation at school
- Diminished capacity to learn
- Weight loss or nutrition problems from painful or difficult eating or chewing
- Tooth loss, which may affect a child’s appearance and self-esteem
- In rare cases, a tooth abscess which can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections
An analysis of California dental claims data in 2012 found the lifetime costs for a single decayed molar can reach $6,105.
How to prevent cavities
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking.
- Regulate the mouth’s pH balance
- Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (where decay often starts) to protect them from decay.
- Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination.
- Prevention pays off! The average cost of applying a dental sealant to a child’s permanent teeth is usually a fraction of what it costs to fill a cavity. That's why it's important to have regular dental checkups and cleanings, even when your mouth feels fine.
When to see a dentist
The best time to see a dentist is twice a year for regular checkups--but if you or your child experiences mouth pain, please call sooner.
At your visit, we will perform an exam in order to find possible cavities or detect possible hot-spots in the mouth. Our preventative treatments include applying fluoride and sealants to the teeth, which will help teeth resist the decaying effects of acidic plaque, which can help buy some time for children who are still learning good habits like brushing and flossing.
If our exams show that there are cavities in more advanced stages, we can schedule a time for treatment. Drilling and filling cavities are a routine in-office procedure that can be done with pain relief. It’s so much less stressful and expensive than waiting until a cavity grows and becomes a painful and expensive emergency.
Our friendly team here at Southlake Dental love helping people keep their smiles. Schedule a time to come see us!