That’s what we heard from one of our younger patients after she learned that she had three cavities where her brother, who rarely brushed his teeth and snacked all the time, had none! She had worked hard this year to take care of her teeth so that she could enter our office “Cavity Free Club” and she was clearly frustrated.
We know. Life seems unfair sometimes especially when we feel that our good behavior should get rewarded. Although poor teeth are almost always the result of poor dental hygiene, when it comes to preventing tooth decay there are things we can and cannot control.
Cavities can be healed!
It’s important to understand that the enamel that covers the portion of the tooth visible in the mouth is the hardest tissue in the human body – much more mineralized and harder than bone. The process of healing a fractured bone is generally easier than the healing that can take place on a tooth because the damage and subsequent healing of a tooth can be compromised by many factors.
Your mouth is a battlefield and there is always a constant fight between the factors that can destroy enamel and your salvia which has remarkable remineralization capabilities. While enamel can not grow back after being lost, it’s damaged surface can be re-hardened by the minerals available in your saliva. The key is allowing the saliva to accomplish this repair work, but there are many interferences. Some you can control while others are not as manageable.
Let’s look at the common factors that contribute to the formation of cavities:
Acid – Acid is a substance that breaks down and corrodes other materials. The ph level in your mouth is always changing, but you have some control over how often your mouth is in an acid state. Reducing your meal frequencies and avoiding acidic foods/drinks will help reduce the number of acid attacks. If you suffer from conditions such as acid reflux or bulimia we advise you to consult your family physician for further direction.
Acid Reflux – The enamel of the teeth are highly susceptible to erosion by the corrosive action of stomach acids. The more severe a person’s acid refux condition the more frequent the tooth surfaces are exposed to these acid attacks.
Bulimia – Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterized by eating and vomiting. The continual exposure of the enamel to stomach acids by frequent vomiting erodes enamel making it highly susceptible to cavities and eventually exposing softer, less mineralized tissues of the tooth.
Cancer – Treatments can damage salivary glands and change the composition of saliva.
Dental Work – Worn and broken restorations such as fillings, veneers, crowns and bridgework can allow bacteria to gain access to the tooth underneath where a toothbrush cannot reach. Regular dental exams allow your dentist to examine the condition of your previous dental work and make any necessary repairs before decay has a chance to spread and undermine the restoration further.
Diet – The bacteria in your mouth love sugar and all carbohydrates are essentially sugar in one form or another. The more you ingest sugar the more acid attacks occur in the mouth. Your saliva is an important element in combatting these acid attacks and remineralizing your teeth, but the healing process takes time – up to 4 to 5 hours! Snacking in between your three main daily meals interferes with this healing process, so rethink your snacking habits.
Genetics – For the most part, you cannot change your genetic makeup, but you can learn to control some of the factors that make your mouth the perfect breeding ground for tooth decay. Crooked teeth can be fixed with orthodontia. Saliva production can be manipulated and the bacterial count in your mouth can be controlled. However, there are some abnormalities and conditions that are inherited and can only be controlled to a certain degree.
Health – Our mental and physical health can alter saliva production, but we can only control our health to a certain extent.
Hygiene – Inadequate brushing and flossing will increase your chances of getting cavities. Even though most people know how important it is to brush 3 times a day and floss at least once daily many still admit to only getting around to it once a day. This is simply not enough! Although it is impossible to remove all of the plaque and minute food particles that accumulate on your tooth surface, you can significantly reduce it’s buildup.
Medication – There are literally hundreds and hundreds of medications that can change the quality and amount of saliva that is produced in our mouths. Your doctor and/or pharmacist can make recommendations and advise you further. Read our article on Dry Mouth here.
Mouth Fungus – There is a fungus called Candida albicans that produces a glue-like substance that helps bacteria stick to teeth. Medications are readily available to help combat this condition, but illnesses and compromised immune systems can challenge the healing process.
Saliva – Saliva has remarkable healing qualities! The amount and quality of saliva differs from person to person and some people have better saliva than others. Saliva is an essential factor in keeping teeth healthy and is largely dependant on your level of hydration, state of health and nutrition. Changes in saliva can affect your dental health immensely. You can control your saliva with proper nutrition and hydration, adequate chewing, through the use of sugar-free gums, and if necessary, dry mouth remedies. Some health-related issues, however, can greatly alter or damage saliva production and require physician assistance.
Soft teeth – It is rare to see a true case of “soft teeth” in the dental profession and most people who blame their tooth decay on soft teeth do not realize that the serious genetic abnormality that causes the teeth to be under-calcified is a disorder that only occurs in a very small percentage of the population and affects other parts of the body also.
Snacking – Snacking in between meals does not allow the saliva to sufficiently remineralize teeth. The need to snack has become so ingrained in our society and many people do not realize the dental consequences of such a habit. We’ve got to change our mindset if we’re ever going to get a handle on tooth decay!
Tooth Anatomy – Some teeth have deeper pits and grooves than others and bacteria can get into these nooks and crevices making cleaning difficult. Your dentist can seal these areas with dental sealants creating a smoother surface which decreases the likelihood of plaque and food accumulation.
Tooth Development – Very few people have “soft teeth” although there are varying degrees of hardness to enamel due to mineral content. It is true that you are what you eat and there are essential minerals that are taken up into the tooth during development making them stronger and more decay-resistant. Calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D are important nutrients that support mineralization.
Wear – Although enamel is the hardest substance in the body, like a rock, it is also subject to wear and friction from forces brought to bear upon it. Long term stress can eventually wear enough enamel away to expose the underlying, more sensitive and softer dentin tissue. Grinding and clenching can cause a whole host of mouth issues including the eventual loosening of teeth. Oral habits like chewing on pencils and tobacco, nail biting or holding items with your teeth can also wear down enamel over time. Brushing too hard and with abrasive toothpastes or other substances can abrade enamel and gum tissue which also can expose any softer, underlying tooth tissues.
The Myth of Soft Teeth
There tends to be a tendency to blame tooth decay on “soft teeth”. The only people with true soft teeth suffer from a genetic abnormality that affects certain other parts of the body also. The mineral quality of enamel during tooth development can also be compromised by the body’s inability to absorb nutrients, prenatal deficiencies and fluorosis (accidently ingesting an abundance of fluoride during tooth development.).
The Fight inside your Mouth!
Teeth are always in a constant state of the demineralizing and remineralizing process. See our article here. Our attitudes and habits have the greatest impact on our dental health. It really is up to us to take charge of the battle over cavities. We can blame this and that, but ultimately the responsibility lies with us and the capability lies within us.
The maintenance and repair of tooth enamel is one of our primary concerns at Your Smile Dental Care and this is the main reason why we make an effort to reach out to our patients and the public through social media. We believe educated patients take charge of their dental health and make responsible choices moving forward.
Scientists around the world have made significant progress in the healing of regrowth of enamel. It may sound counter-productive to the occupation that we have chosen as our life’s work, but we are behind them 100% and happily await the day when all kids can enter our “Cavity Free” Club!