Frequently asked questions about dental cavities
What are dental cavities and how do they occur?
Dental cavities, also known as tooth decay, occur when bacteria in your mouth use sugars in food and drink as a source of energy. The bacteria produce acids, commonly called ‘plaque acids’. These plaque acids are dangerous as they can dissolve your tooth surfaces. Furthermore, plaque acids form each time you consume food or drink containing sugar, which is why frequent eating or drinking throughout the day puts your teeth at risk.
The bacteria also attack where the gums and teeth meet. The gums become red and swollen and a space forms between the teeth and the gums. This is called a pocket. The pocket then fills up with plaque and can damage the fibres which hold the teeth to the bone. The bone itself is then attacked and the pocket deepens. This is called gum disease.
How can I prevent decay?
- Reduce the amount of food and drinks containing sugar, and more importantly reduce the number of times a day that you eat or drink sugary foods and drink.
- Try to have sugary foods and drinks only at meal times.
- Check the labels on foods, drinks and medicines, and where possible buy products which contain less or no sugar.
- Artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes do not cause caries.
How else can caries be prevented?
Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day can remove the acid forming plaque. Remember though: spit, don’t rinse. Flossing or the use of inter-dental brushes can also remove plaque from in-between the teeth.
Brushing around crowns and bridgework can be extra difficult. The dentist or hygienist can advise you on this. It is a joint effort between the patient and dentist, it cannot be done without your co-operation.
What about fizzy drinks?
Fizzy drinks are extremely damaging to the teeth. They contain a lot of sugar and they are very acidic. Acids dissolve the surface of the tooth and the tooth wears away quicker than it would do if it was not exposed to fizzy drinks. This is called erosion. Even diet or low-calorie fizzy drinks still contain the same acids as other fizzy drinks and cause the same damage.
How can I prevent erosion?
Save fizzy drinks for special occasions. Low calorie or diet cordials and squashes can be an alternative but use with caution as they can still be acidic. Better still, drink water!
What are safe snacks?
- Non-citrus fruit and vegetables. (Avoid oranges, apples and grapes as these are acidic)
- Carrot and celery sticks
- Bread, savoury muffins and bagels
- Sandwiches with a savoury filling
- Cheese and crackers
- Unsweetened popcorn
- Unsweetened tea or coffee
What is the role of saliva?
Saliva helps neutralise the plaque acids in the mouth and can prevent decay from occurring. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating stimulates saliva production and can help prevent decay. The flow of saliva is reduced when you are asleep. For that reason, you should never have fizzy drinks or sugary snacks and drinks at bed-time.