A common term “soft teeth” is used to describe someone who is susceptible to rapid tooth break down. Decay is extremely common. According to some studies almost 96% of Americans by age 65 have had 1 or more cavities. These daunting stats do not make it a foregone conclusion that everyone will get cavities. There are many things you can do to prevent cavities from happening all together
- What is tooth enamel?
- The top part of our tooth (crown) is covered and protected by an extremely hard material called enamel. It is primarily made up of calcium and phosphate minerals. It is considered to be the hardest tissue in the human body.
Enamel protects your teeth and the nerves within from the extremely high forces of chewing and grinding. It allows us to break up our food which aids in digestion and conversion of this food to energy. If the enamel is damaged due to trauma, or decay it does not regenerate and must be repaired.
Tooth decay is the most common cause of enamel damage. It occurs when plaque collects in and around teeth. Plaque consists of bacteria, some of which metabolize sugar and create acid as a byproduct. The acid demineralizes and deteriorates enamel,eventually causing holes or cavities.
Most common causes of tooth decay come from the following:
- Sugar from soft drinks
- Sugar from fruit drinks
- Sugar from other foods like fruit, cookies, or candy
The good news if you can control the intake of these items and see a dramatic decrease in your level of new cavities.
- Dry Mouth (xerostomia)
- This can be caused by medications or by certain medical conditions. Normal saliva flow washes away plaque that causes tooth decay. When salivary flow is diminished cavities increase
- Acid reflux disease (GERD)
- Acid Reflux, otherwise known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a disease process where excess stomach acids go back up into the esophagus and into the mouth. Stomach acids are highly acidic and break down teeth. This issue primarily affects the lower back teeth because they are nearest to the esophagus. You should see your doctor if you think you have acid reflux.
- Grinding (Bruxism)
- Many people grind their teeth. Research does not tell us conclusively why people grind their teeth, however it is extremely common. It occurs more commonly at night. Grinding wears down the enamel of the tooth slowly over time and can be prevented to some degree utilizing a night guard.
- Vomiting is common in people who are receiving chemotherapy and for patients with eating disorders such as bulimia. The highly acidic contents of the stomach break teeth down at a rapid rate.
White or black spots
White or black spots are a sign of acidity and enamel break down this is usually an early sign of decay
Darker areas on x rays
X-rays can show signs of decay in early stages before they become large
Sensitivity to hot cold or pressure could be a sign of decay. Sugar also can cause sensitivity
As decay progresses cavities or holes can form in enamel
If cavities start to form where teeth touch they will start getting food impacted
Advanced cavities cause pain. Lingering pain to cold is significant as well as when it gets worse at night
The earlier you address the decay the better. Don’t wait until things hurt. Usually it will be much more expensive to address.
Prevention is possible but requires changes to daily habits of hygiene and diet. Visiting us on a regular basis is the best way to prevent decay. Once a cavity starts it will not get better on it’s own. Regular hygiene visits can remove the plaque that causes cavities, or decay. Daily flossing and brushing also helps remove the plaque that causes cavities.
Other preventative measures include:
- Eliminate sugar and highly acidic drinks like soda
- Brush your teeth after meals and especially if you eat sugar.
- Avoid snacking throughout the day.
- If you have low saliva flow, use biotene® supplements.
- Sugar free gum helps improve saliva flow
- Use fluoride toothpaste; it strengthens the enamel and can prevent new cavities
- Get sealants on your molar teeth
- The most important time to brush and floss is at night. Our mouth gets drier when we sleep causing decay to flourish.
- Use oral hygiene tools: We recommend an electric toothbrush like a Sonicare ® and Waterpik® to clean between the teeth
The treatment depends on the extent of the damage. In early stages decay can be treated with a filling. When it gets near the nerve a root canal is a more appropriate option. Crowns or veneers are used to reinforce a tooth if the majority of the tooth has been damaged by decay or trauma.