What Causes Cavities

What Are Cavities, Actually?


            Recently, I was asked to speak to a couple of elementary school classes on the subject of teeth.  I put together a short slideshow about dental caries (cavities) with funny internet pictures and figured that would be enough to hold the kids’ attention.  It seemed to work, as I didn’t get booed from the classroom.  Or, the promise of a surprise in their “goody” bag might have helped.  I’m not sure if I’m a good speaker or I just bribe well.


            When I finished, one of the teachers came to me and thanked me for explaining how people get cavities.  In a lifetime of going to the dentist, that included many visits for tooth restoration, nobody had explained why or how she got said cavities.


            I the interest of public health, I figured that would be a good subject for an article.  If you know how cavities form, then it might be easier to prevent them in the first place.  It’s more than just sugary foods.


            Cavities are the result of a bacterial disease process called dental caries.  The actual cavity is not the disease, rather the cavity is the hole in your tooth as a result of the bacteria.


            It takes three things to form a cavity:  bacteria, teeth, and food.  Disrupt any one of the three and, voila, no more cavities. 


            Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the sugar that actually dissolves a hole in your teeth.  After the bacteria get full on your leftovers (most any food will do if not brushed or flossed away), they have to do what most of us do after a big meal.  The bugs get full and must excrete their waste.  As I told the kids at school, the bugs eat and then poop on your teeth.  This waste is acidic and dissolves tooth away.


            If that doesn’t make you want to brush and floss, I don’t know what will.


            To avoid cavities, simply eliminate one of the three things needed to cause them in the first place.  One hundred percent of people with no teeth have no cavities.  Not really a good option, but it is a true statement.  You cannot eliminate all of the bacteria in your mouth, but you can mechanically remove a good portion of them from your teeth by brushing and flossing regularly.  A third way to keep from getting dental decay is to quit feeding the bugs.  The bacteria that cause cavities eat sugars and fermentable carbohydrates that stick to your teeth.  Reducing what the bugs like to eat can reduce the incidence of cavities


            Until next week, keep smiling.


-Questions and comments can be sent to Drs. Parish at www.ParrishDental.com.