A cavity is a hole in your tooth. Cavities are caused by tooth decay – the process of wearing down the tooth enamel that is caused by bacteria on the teeth.
Tooth decay happens as a result of sugar being left on the teeth – for example, after eating candy, cakes, cereals, breads, or other foods that contain starches, sugars and carbohydrates. Sugar is the culprit for tooth decay because bacteria that live on our teeth love to eat sugar – and when bacteria eat sugar, they digest the sugar and convert it into acid, which then goes to work attacking the enamel of our teeth.
This probably sounds menacing – it’s not! It’s perfectly normal to eat carbohydrates and sugar; it’s perfectly natural to have bacteria on your teeth – all people do. The problem happens when sugar is left to sit for extended periods on the surface of your teeth – or when we eat too much sugar and do not have a balanced diet. Then the bacteria in our mouths get out of control, leading to buildup of plaque – that thick, opaque substance on the surface of teeth – and the acid buildup on the surface of our teeth gets to be overwhelming. This is when tooth decay and cavities happen.
How can cavities be prevented?
Here are the two most important things you can do to prevent cavities:
- Eat a good, balanced diet. Most people in modern-day America eat far too much sugar and carbohydrates. This is one of the contributing factors to the obesity rate, and it also leads to poor dental health. If you drink lots of soda and eat lots of sugary foods every day, you are going to be at higher risk for cavities. The health of your teeth is connected to the health of the rest of your body – and it starts with the kind of food that you are putting into your body.
- Brush and floss every day. Think of the process of avoiding cavities as an ongoing battle – every day, the bacteria in your mouth go to work trying to damage your teeth, and you need to keep stopping them. By brushing your teeth (twice a day – once before bedtime and once in the morning) and flossing every day, you are helping to slow the buildup of plaque and avoid the harmful acids that can break down your tooth enamel over time. There’s no “magic bullet” for fighting cavities; instead it’s a process of ongoing, steady resistance.
What if I brush and floss, and still get cavities? Is something wrong with me?
Some people are at higher risk for getting cavities – even if they don’t have a high-sugar diet, even if they do have good brushing and flossing habits. Often people think of cavities as something that only happens to children who eat too much candy – but cavities can occur in older adults as well. Some people are at higher risk for cavities due to family history or due to the unique characteristics of their teeth. Pregnant women are often at higher risk for cavities because of the sugar cravings that often accompany pregnancy – so if you’re pregnant, pay extra attention to your dental care.
Cavities are best avoided – as with so many other aspects of health, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you can do your best to avoid getting cavities, your teeth will thank you for it.