You’re going about your day, and then there it is. The hint of a dull pain in the back of your mouth. Is it a piece of food stuck back there? Did you brush your teeth too hard? Is it the beginning of a cavity? If it’s the latter, well then Houston, we have a problem.
We know that eating too much sugar can cause cavities. But what’s really going on with our tooth when that happens? Why are some cavities worse than others? And is there any way to prevent getting one?
What is the structure of a tooth?
Let’s start with the structure of a tooth. A tooth has several layers. The outermost layer — the one you can see — is the enamel. Enamel is the hardest and most mineralized substance in the body.
Below the enamel and beneath the gum-line, a substance called cementum covers the tooth’s roots. Under that is the dentin, which is about as hard as bone. And, unlike the enamel, dentin contains nerve endings.
Beneath the dentin is the dental pulp. The pulp is vascular tissue composed of capillaries, larger blood vessels, connective tissue, nerve fibers and cells. The pulp nourishes the tooth during development. After a tooth is mature, the only function of the pulp is to let us know if it is damaged or infected by transmitting pain.
What is a cavity?
Humans have been getting cavities, also know as dental caries, for thousands of years. Cavities are an infection caused by a combination of carbohydrates and certain bacteria. When these bacteria find carbohydrates, they absorb them and produce acid. A tooth’s exposure to acid lowers the pH on its surface.
Normally, the pH in the mouth is about 6.2 to 7.0. This is slightly more acidic than water. When we consume carbohydrates such as candy, breads and soda, the pH level drops. Acid begins to dissolve the hard enamel of the tooth when the pH gets around 5.2 to 5.5 or below.
As the cavity progresses through the enamel, it makes its way to the softer dentin. This is where it attacks the tooth’s blood supply and nerve — and when the pain really kicks in.
There are two main ways a cavity can develop. The first is within pits and fissures. Food can easily get stuck in these small grooves on the top surfaces of molars and premolars in the back of your mouth.
The second way a cavity can develop is on a smooth surface. When acid gets through the enamel on the front or back of a tooth, you’re going to start having issues.
How to prevent cavities
We tend to think sugar and candy are the cavity culprits. But in reality, carbohydrates of all kinds are the main cause. And, of course, poor oral hygiene can fuel a cavity.
Bad habits with brushing and flossing your teeth result in food turning to acid and plaque build up. So no matter what you’re eating, the number one way to prevent cavities is to brush and floss on a regular basis. Using the proper tools helps as well.
Brushing with tooth powder made from natural clays will reintroduce the minerals your teeth need to stay strong and healthy. It will help protect your teeth and combat problematic bacteria by kickstarting the remineralization process.
Flossing helps to remove all the gunk and debris stuck between your teeth and near the gum line. This will lessen the chances of getting cavities in these areas. Using an all-natural gum serum or oil on the floss is a great way to make the process easier and more effective. Be sure to floss gently and often so you don’t irritate your gums. If you floss too hard, the sensitive gum line can attract even more bacteria and acid.
Another way to help clean and protect your smile is with the ancient technique of oil pulling. All you have to do is swish oil — such as coconut or sesame oils — around your mouth for 10 minutes. The oil creates an environment that isn’t favorable for bacteria. You can do oil pulling every day, but if you’re sticking to regular brushing and flossing, once a week will be fine.
Getting a cavity is not fun. But thankfully there are ways you can lessen the chances of developing one. Keep up with a good dental hygiene routine and watch what you eat. You’ll have a healthy, happy smile for years and years.