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Everything You Need to Know About Cavities

The pain definitely tells us when we have cavities, but few of us understand why we get them. You likely know that poor dental hygiene causes cavities, but do you understand why not brushing or flossing causes cavities? See why and learn about the importance of a neutral pH level in preventing tooth decay.
In order to understand all that's involved in the making of a cavity, you've got to first understand the key players. Those players include saliva, pellicle, plaque and calculus and each resides in the mouth. Saliva is really important when it comes to protecting teeth and keeping our mouths healthy. Saliva keeps teeth, gums and other tissues inside the mouth lubricated and moist. Saliva helps break food down while eating, and afterwards it washes away some of the bits of food that get stuck on teeth. Saliva also can neutralize acids which lowers the amount present in the mouth. Interestingly, it can even help protect us against certain viruses and bacteria. If you've ever noticed a slippery feeling on your teeth right after you brush, that's the result of proteins in saliva called pellicle. Pellicle coat teeth after brushing by absorbing into the surface. The pellicle gives teeth an extra layer of protection against decay-causing acids. Unfortunately, bacteria and microorganisms can easily attach to the pellicle and this is actually the stage during which plaque begins to develop. If you were to look at the white sticky substance on your teeth through a microscope, you'd realize that plaque consists of yeast, microorganisms, bacteria, protozoa, mycoplasmas, white blood cells, food particles, body tissues and viruses. If people realized that, surely they'd do a better job brushing and flossing! Several hours after brushing is when plaque starts to develop and in just one hour, a good amount will accumulate. If left untouched other microorganisms join the mix, thickening the plaque and turning on its destructive powers. Bacteria are in the mouth too and they're always present in both good and bad form. The good bacteria help us fight colds and other illnesses. The bad intensify the tooth decaying process. Streptococcus mutans is the worst, producing acid while attaching to teeth. Lactobacillus only can attach to plaque so it doesn't do quite as much damage. Several other bacteria located inside the mouth contribute to tooth decay and periodontal disease. To summarize, decay begins when bacteria start attaching themselves to the pellicle. Six or so hours later, plaque begins to form. The bacteria present in your mouth produce acids, and these acids, by throwing the pH balance of your mouth out of balance, cause tooth decay. In the case of tooth decay, a process called demineralization begins when the pH level inside the mouth drops below 5.5. Remember, this chain reaction begins the moment you finish brushing your teeth. But brushing is what continually returns the pH level in your mouth back into the range of 6.2 and 7.0, which is considered neutral. That's why brushing and flossing are so important in fighting tooth decay.

The importance of a neutral pH level in preventing tooth decay.

You'd never have to worry about tooth decay if you didn't eat. Of course, you wouldn't have to worry about much because you would die. But eat we do, every day, and the foods we choose aren't always the best. When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into sugars including sucrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose and glucose. Fermentable carbohydrates actually begin breaking down in the mouth (as opposed to the digestive tract where other foods begin the process). If you eat cookies, cake, chips, crackers, candy, sugary drinks and cereal you are eating fermentable carbohydrates. When the sugars in these foods interact with the bacteria in the mouth, acids are produced. Acids are what cause a drop in pH level. When pH drops to 5.5 or lower, the drop causes the minerals inside the teeth to start dissolving. This is demineralization. This loss of minerals weakens teeth. The damage will continue for as long as pH is at or lower than 5.5. Remember brushing teeth returns pH to a neutral level, between 6.2 and 7.0 which is why brushing is so important in preventing tooth decay. Some of the bacteria inside your mouth love sugar so as long as sugar is present, these bacteria keep producing more and more acid. Tooth decay begins inside the tooth, as demineralization takes hold. Remineralization from fluoride and saliva can defend against decay at this early stage. If left untreated though, the spot where the decay began grows. Once the decay spreads through to the enamel, the damage cannot be reversed. You've now got a cavity. With a break in the enamel, food particles can get inside the tooth and cause pain. That's when you'll show up at the dentist begging for help. The dentist will clear away the debris and decay and fill the cavity. If you don't get the cavity filled, the decay can spread into the dentin and even to the pulp and the nerves. Acute caries (the proper term for cavity) develop quickly, in just a few months. Children whose enamel tends to be weaker and young adults are more prone to acute carries. Chronic carries take longer to progress, and sometimes don't progress much at all. Older individuals are more prone to this type of cavity. When decay forms in the roots, root caries develop and they too are more common in older individuals. When decay continues to form even after a cavity has been filled or a crown has been put into place, that is called recurring decay. Only you can prevent cavities and it's not that hard if you brush and floss regularly to remove bacteria, drink fluorinated water, seal the teeth that are most vulnerable, and limit your intake of fermentable carbohydrates.
First we introduce you to the key players involved in tooth decay and touched on the importance of maintaining a neutral pH level inside the mouth. Then wel elaborate on pH balance, the different types of cavities and what you can do to prevent tooth decay.