General dentists are concerned about the misinformation circulating when it comes to cavities. Many people believe only children suffer from or should be concerned about tooth decay. However, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, of adults age 20 to 64, roughly 92% have experienced cavities in permanent teeth.
In fact, cavities have been called a national epidemic by professionals working in oral hygiene. What is worse is that they are preventable. Before people can learn how to prevent cavities, it is important to learn how they form.
What is a cavity?
Cavities, also called caries or tooth decay, are areas of the teeth that have suffered permanent damage. They generally start small in weak areas of the tooth and then continue to grow. The longer cavities remain untreated, the worse they become. Cavities often do not cause pain in the beginning when only the surface of the tooth is affected. Because of this, people who do not maintain regular dental visits may live with cavities for years before noticing the effects.
How cavities develop
Cavities form in the teeth due to exposure to acidic foods. Even when people avoid sodas, tomato sauce and other acid-based foods, the bacteria in the mouth convert sugary foods into acids. When you think of sugary foods, sweets or ice cream most commonly come to mind, but carbohydrates are also a source of complex sugars. Even bread, milk and fruit can speed up the tooth decay process.
The risk factors
While anyone can develop cavities at some point, there are risk factors that put some people at greater risk than others. Here are a few of them:
- Regular Diet: A preference for sugary and acidic foods that cling to the teeth speed up tooth decay. Common culprits include honey, ice cream, cake, dried fruit and chips.
- Poor Oral Hygiene: Even when people brush and floss regularly, if not done properly, some food particles may stay behind. These form plaque, which contributes to tooth decay.
- Fluoride Deficiency: There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the use and consumption of fluoride. However, all general dentists agree that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and may even help to reverse the earliest signs of decay.
- Eating Disorders: Repeated vomiting from bulimia causes stomach acids to wash over and erode the teeth. Eating disorders can also disrupt the production of saliva, which is needed to help wash away foods.
The most common symptom associated with tooth decay is a toothache, but there are several others to look out for. An early sign is the increased sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet or salty foods. Patients may also notice white, brown or black stains on the teeth. In addition to this, holes may appear. Finally, patients may experience pain when biting down.
Get help from general dentists
General dentists do more than help to detect the formation of cavities. Dentists also help patients to prevent cavities based on diet, lifestyle choices and how much of the enamel has already worn away. In addition to this, dental sealants can help reduce the likelihood of developing cavities in the sealed tooth for years to come.
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