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How Do Cavities Really Form?

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Everyone has heard of cavities, but what are they really, and how do they actually form? Knowing how cavities are created is a great start in preventing them, which means less time spent in the dental chair each year. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Cavities… are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning your teeth well.”  

The bacteria that live inside the mouth eat the carbs and sugars left over from your meals and produce an acidic biproduct. This acid then sits on the surfaces of the teeth, known as enamel, and slowly causes erosion; this type of weakening in the enamel is referred to as decalcification, resulting in a “pre-cavity.” Once the erosion reaches the second layer of the tooth, known as dentin, the damage proceeds much more quickly. This is known as a cavity. If the cavity isn’t treated in this stage, the bacteria will continue to erode the tooth until it reaches the nerve of the tooth. In this stage, the cavity becomes very painful and requires a root canal, which is removal of the nerve.

Due to the acidic nature of the bacteria that cause cavities, consuming acidic foods and drinks such as spicy food, fruits, sodas, energy drinks and even coffee can have devastating effects on weakened teeth. Luckily, preventing cavities can mostly be done in the comfort of your own home. Limiting the amounts of food and drink high in sugars, carbs and acids helps keep the PH levels in the mouth neutral, slowing the effects of erosion. It’s also important to eat meals and finish drinks all at once rather than snack and sip throughout the day. This allows the PH level in the mouth to neutralize, giving bacteria less to feed on. Most importantly, brushing twice daily and flossing daily is a must.  

These simple oral hygiene habits remove deposits of bacterial plaque from the mouth, limiting the amount of damage they can do. It’s also important to get a dental examination annually to ensure that your teeth and gums are healthy and to receive any necessary preventive or interceptive care. After all, healthy teeth equals less time at the dentist’s office—and who can argue with that?

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