A cavity, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, is an area of infection on the tooth which causes the tooth to become discolored and soft. If left untreated, it will often progress deeper into the tooth causing infection into the roots where the tooth’s nerve is. Sometimes, a person doesn’t feel any pain from a cavity until it has irreversibly damaged the tooth’s nerve. From this point, the infection spreads out the end of the root into the bone and soft tissue often times causing swelling. Sometimes, this infection can spread to other areas of the body and become life threatening. Therefore, it is very important to treat cavities when they are small and before you notice any pain.
You must have tooth structure, bacteria, and sugar together in order for a cavity to form. If any one of these items is not present, you cannot get a cavity. The millions of bacteria in your mouth convert the sugar into harmful acids that attack your teeth for as long as twenty minutes or more and cause cavities. Since teeth and bacteria are always present in your mouth, the only one of these three items that a person can reasonably control is sugar. Sugar is present in almost all foods and drinks, even in healthy items not necessarily considered sugary snacks. Bacteria can also produce acid from any food containing carbohydrates including pasta, crackers, popcorn, potato chips, peanut butter, bread, and fruit. It is very important to realize that it is the frequency rather than the amount of these products exposed to the teeth that is the most damaging.
Fluoride hardens the outer surfaces of your teeth and makes them more resistant to decay. To help prevent cavities, brush with fluoride containing toothpaste, floss, and most importantly, do not frequently expose your teeth to food and drink, unless they are sugar-free. Although brushing and flossing are essential in helping to prevent gum disease, they are not that effective in reducing decay, and cannot compensate for frequent snacking.