Just about everybody gets a cavity at some point in life. Most of us have our first experience at an early age. Children are more prone to tooth decay than older people because they tend to be less diligent about brushing and flossing. Also, tooth decay is recognized by the CDC as a communicable disease referred to as dental caries. It can be transmitted from parents to children by sharing cups or utensils.
Why causes cavities to form?
Everyone knows that proper brushing and flossing twice daily will help prevent cavities, but what actually causes tooth enamel to decay? Let’s look at five reasons cavities keep developing and examine how such things as eating habits and oral hygiene contributes to dental health.
- Sugary foods: There are many factors that contribute to the formation of cavities in the teeth. However, all tooth decay begins with an excess of bacteria. This critter feeds on the sugars and starches that collect inside the mouth. It produces acid that demineralizes and erodes tooth enamel. This bacterium is also responsible for plaque formation that blankets teeth with more acid, further enhancing its damaging effects.
When sugar-laden foods are eaten, they leave behind morsels for bacteria to enjoy. Acid is produced each time the bacteria comes into contact with sugar. This may happen countless times throughout the course of just one meal. So how you eat has a big impact on whether or not a cavity may develop. Therefore, it is better to eat a piece of chocolate than it is to suck on a lollipop or chew a sticky strip of taffy.
- Acidic foods: Acidic foods, such as soda and citrus fruits, are common causes of tooth decay. Diet soda is not any better than the sugared version. Acidic foods and drinks can be even more harmful than sugar. This corrosive agent causes destruction on its own, without any help from bacteria. Fruit juices, carbonated drinks, and other acidic foods promote tooth decay by directly eroding tooth enamel.
It isn’t reasonable to cut out all of these items, but you can take steps to minimize the damage. The best thing to do is choose your snacks wisely. Never eat high acid food items before going to bed. Saliva is what neutralized acids in the mouth, and saliva production slows down overnight. Also, remember to wait 30 minutes to brush your teeth after eating anything highly acidic. The softened enamel will be easily damaged. Just rinse with fluoride mouthwash or plain water.
- Poor hygiene: The longer you allow sugars and acids to linger on your teeth the more time bacteria and acids have to break down your enamel. Once that happens, it is gone for life. Twice daily brushing and once a day flossing, combined with regular dental visits is usually enough to ward off cavities. This routine will remove food and bacteria, and it won’t allow acids to accumulate.
- Genetics: It is now known that genetics play some part in the density of enamel. This why some people who practice great oral hygiene still end up with cavities, while others who put a little effort into it, manage to maintain healthy teeth. Predisposition to gingivitis and periodontal disease have also been linked to a genetic component.
- Lack of saliva: Lastly, saliva neutralizes acids and carries away food particles. Lack of saliva is most prevalent in seniors who take medication regularly. Many prescription drugs for hypertension, heart disease and inflammation reduce saliva flow, eliminating one of our best defenses against cavities.
Keep in mind, the best way to fight cavities is to avoid sugary foods and carbonated drinks. Wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after eating an acidic meal and always maintain good oral hygiene.