What Is Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities also referred to as dental caries, are areas of breakdown in tooth structures. Dental cavities are the commonest dental pathology in the world. Caries is more prevalent in developed countries, due to diets high in unrefined and processed foods, as well as the surplus of sugar in diets. An estimated two billion people suffer from dental caries.
The formation of caries is due to a combination of factors, namely bacteria, sugars, an acidic environment and time. Bacteria in the mouth start to break down teeth under the right conditions. An acidic environment provides ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive in. Tooth enamel becomes acidic when exposed to sugar or plaque that stays on the teeth for too long. In this acid environment, the bacteria then start to multiply and break down the teeth, forming carries.
The bacteria most often associated with dental caries are Staphylococcus mutants and lactobacilli. Bacteria form collections on teeth called biofilms (also referred to as plaque). The only way of removing biofilms is through mechanical friction such as brushing and flossing.
Caries can range in size and colour, although most often present as blackened areas.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dental Cavities?
- Sensitivity of teeth when chewing or drinking
- Painful tooth
- Inflammation of gingiva (gums) or secondary periodontitis
- Visible tooth break down and carries on the teeth
What Are The Causes Of Dental Cavities?
- Poor oral hygiene
- Sugar and other food debris that stay on teeth. Sugar provides energy to bacteria to multiply, as well as creating an acidic pH in the mouth, promoting tooth breakdown
- Conditions that reduce saliva may also predispose to cavity formation. Saliva contains white blood cells and IgA proteins that are a part of the body’s immune system, and help to protect against bacteria in the mouth. Saliva also contains enzymes to help keep the mouth clean and assists in maintaining the healthy pH balance in the mouth:
Conditions that reduce saliva includes medical conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome and Diabetes Mellitus
Medications such as muscle relaxants, opioid analgesia, and antihistamines also cause reduced saliva production
What Are The Things One Should Do To Manage Dental Cavities?
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride enriched toothpaste. Fluoride helps to strengthen teeth and prevent caries.
- Floss once a day to keep bacteria from accumulating between the teeth.
- Visit your dentist six months for a check-up and professional cleaning of teeth.
- Along with your dental checkup, ask for fluoride treatment to be applied to your teeth.
What Are The Things One Should Avoid To Manage Dental Cavities?
- Don’t eat your food too slow. If food stays in the mouth for long periods, that also leads to cavities.
- Smoking has a direct effect on tooth enamel, as well as creating systemic inflammation.
- Do not leave suspected tooth cavities untreated. Destruction of teeth due to caries are progressive. Early intervention will be cost saving and will involve minimally invasive procedures.
What Are The Best Foods For Dental Cavities?
- Foods high in fibre, especially those found in fruits and vegetables. Fibre stimulates the flow of saliva and also cause a mechanical brushing effect of the teeth.
- Tea. Rooibos, green and black tea contain antioxidants and phenols that are bactericidal and bacteriostatic (kills bacteria and prevents them from multiplying)
- Calcium, magnesium, and fluoride rich foods.
- Calcium is found in dairy, kale and spinach, broccoli, figs, sardines, and almonds.
- Magnesium rich foods include pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables, soy, fish, and avocado.
- Fluoride can be found in some processed foods as well as drinking water. The safest way to ingest fluoride is via fluoride rich toothpaste.
- Milk products, including yoghurt and cheese. As well as being high in calcium, these products also help to create a neutral pH in the mouth and contain natural probiotics that contribute to restoring bacterial flora balance in the mouth.
- Sugar-free chewing gum. Gum helps to promote the flow of saliva, as well as assisting in removing food particles from the teeth.
What Are The Worst Foods For Dental Cavities?
- Sugars and artificial sweeteners
- Unrefined carbohydrates like bread and pastries
- Any sticky foods that adhere to teeth e.g. dried fruits or jelly sweets
What Are The Medicines For Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities are treated either non-operatively or operatively. Non-operative management includes promoting oral hygiene, and fluoride treatment to prevent progression of caries.
If the decay of the tooth is very severe with extensive cavity formation, operative measures are needed. This involves cleaning out of dead material and restoring the remaining deficit with dental fillings. Fillings are made of different materials including gold, amalgam, and plastic resin. The resin is the same colour as teeth and will be less conspicuous compared to amalgam and gold, but generally, wears down the soonest of all the fillings.
To prevent dental cavity formation in patients who are at risk of developing them, pit and fissure sealants can be applied. These sealants help to prevent accumulation of plaque and potential damage to the tooth structure. Sealants are most often used in children and on molar teeth.
Antibiotics may be indicated if there is secondary gingivitis or periodontitis. Doxycycline is most often used.
If there is secondary abscess formation, surgical incision and drainage will be necessary.
What Are The Tips To Manage Dental Cavities?
Consider buying fluoride enriched mouth wash if you are prone to develop dental cavities.