Going to the dentist every six months is necessary to ensure that your mouth, gums, teeth, and cheeks are all safe and sound. But it can be a nerve-wracking endeavor. After all, you never want to hear the hygienist say that you might have a cavity.
While cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases, affecting more than 80% of the American population by the time they reach their mid-30s, it doesn’t make them any less frustrating to deal with. If you think a cavity or tooth decay is forming on the tooth’s surface, is there a way that you can get rid of it before making your way to the dentist?
If you’re hoping to flush away your cavity before heading to the office, there are a few things you should know beforehand.
Cavities are permanently damaged areas of the teeth that typically occur in the molars at the back of the mouth. They are the result of the untreated formation of plaque on the surface.
Plaque is a clear and sticky film that coats the teeth. When you eat sugar or starchy foods, bacteria feed off of them when they remain on the tooth’s surface. This forms plaque. Plaque can be removed through proper oral hygiene at home. However, if left untreated, it hardens into tartar.
Tartar cannot be removed at home -- it requires special tools at an oral hygienist’s office. This creates a shield for bacteria, which leads to erosion of the tooth’s outer layer, known as enamel. When enamel is worn away, bacteria can start to erode the next layer: dentin. This is a softer layer that is less acid resistant. At this point, you have a cavity.
If the cavity remains untreated past this point, it may damage the underlying pulp and lead to increased tooth decay. This can cause a lot of pain and discomfort over time, so it’s best to get it treated right away.
The answer to this question is not one that we take lightly. The unfortunate truth is that there is no way to get rid of a cavity at home once it’s formed. That means you can’t brush it away, rinse it away, or wish it away on your own.
You can, however, take some steps to prevent it from getting bigger. If you happen to notice a cavity that has not progressed past the enamel, you can continue to practice proper oral hygiene until you are able to see a dentist.
Many hygienists recommend using fluoride, either in toothpaste or with a mouth rinse, as this is a natural element that has proven to strengthen enamel. It may be able to stop the decay from becoming worse.
Additionally, a dentist can correct tooth decay if it has damaged the layer of dentin under your enamel. And on top of that, they may even be able to reverse the beginning stages of a cavity if it has not yet progressed past the enamel.
The only true way to cure a cavity is by going to the dentist and getting a dental filling. This is a procedure that repairs and restores your tooth when minor tooth decay or trauma has occurred.
During a filling procedure, the decayed portion of the tooth is removed to ensure that the bacteria doesn’t spread further into the root or pulp. Next, the dentist will clean and disinfect the area to make it safe for filling.
A dental filling can be made of metal, porcelain, resin, or other materials. These are placed into the small hole where the decay once was to fill it up and protect the underlying nerve. It helps preserve the structure of your tooth while also restoring its appearance.
If tooth decay worsens and reaches the root of a tooth, it may require a root canal procedure. This preserves a tooth by removing infected or badly damaged nerves and pulp inside of a tooth’s root. This procedure also requires a filling when all is said and done.
Early signs of a cavity include white spots on the tooth, which is indicative that enamel is starting to lose minerals. The good news is that enamel can repair itself, and a cavity can be reversed at this point if steps are taken to use fluoride treatments to help strengthen enamel before it worsens.
The best treatment for cavities is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are some surprisingly easy ways to reduce your risk.
It’s one thing to brush your teeth and floss. But it’s another thing to brush your teeth and floss properly.
When brushing your teeth, you should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and use gentle strokes so that you do not scrub away enamel. You also should brush for two minutes, spending an equal amount of time in all four quadrants of the mouth. Use small, circular motions to make sure you’re brushing along the gumline to prevent plaque build-up and gingivitis.
You also should floss once a day, preferably at night. When flossing, make sure you get all the way down at the gums to get every last bit of food out from in-between each tooth.
You may also want to use a fluoride mouthwash rinse to help strengthen your enamel. This can also fight bacteria and make your breath smell fresh.
There’s a good reason why your parents only let you have one piece of candy on Halloween night. Sugary and starchy foods are fuel for bacteria to spring into action.
Prolonged exposure to acidic and sugary foods like candy, coffee, tea, or sodas can wear away your enamel. If you drink coffee, be sure to rinse with water to ensure it doesn’t stain your teeth and foster bacterial growth.
Increasing your water intake not only ensures that you stay hydrated, but it can also help strengthen enamel. Most tap water and bottled water contains fluoride. While it’s not nearly as much as what you’d find in a mouthwash or toothpaste, it’s entirely safe to drink, and it can help flush away the cavity-causing bacteria.
Not to mention, foods rich in fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables can actually help to keep your teeth clean, as they require more saliva production to chew. Saliva is your body’s natural defense against harmful bacteria, so be sure to incorporate more veggies and fruits into your diet.
Smoking can cause a whole slew of medical problems, as it’s one of the main contributors to lung cancer, COPD, and other respiratory infections. If that’s not enough reason to give cigarette butts the boot, they’re also detrimental to cavity formation.
Smoking and chewing tobacco weakens your body’s immune system, making it more difficult to ward off infections in the gums or the mouth. This increases your risk of gum damage, which can also increase your risk of developing cavities. Smokers are at twice the risk for gum disease as compared to nonsmokers.
Dental sealants are a great method for reducing the risk of cavities because they provide a thin, protective coating to your teeth that acts as a physical barrier to tooth decay and cavities. Sealants are made from plastic or other dental materials and adhere to your molars’ top surface or back teeth.
While they aren’t a substitute for flossing or brushing, they can keep cavities from forming and even stop early stages of decay. Sealants have been shown to reduce dental decay by nearly 80% in molars.
Cavities occur when tooth decay forms a hole in the outer layer of a tooth. While there’s no way to get rid of one from home, there are ways that a dentist can work to remove them and fill them, so a tooth looks good as new.
Root canals, fillings, and dental sealants are great ways to correct and prevent cavities, respectively, but they can be super expensive. Considering that more than 30% of Americans don’t have dental insurance, many people are going without the care they need.
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Cavities: Tooth Decay, Toothache, Causes, Prevention & Treatment | Cleveland Clinic
Dental Fillings: Materials, Types, Sensitivity & Allergy Issues | Cleveland Clinic
Slide show: Root canal treatment | The Mayo Clinic
5 Amazingly Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Cavities | College of Dentistry | University of Illinois Chicago
Smoking, Gum Disease, and Tooth Loss | Overviews of Diseases/Conditions | Tips From Former Smokers | CDC
Sealants - American Dental Association | MouthHealthy