They say you don’t have to brush all your teeth – just the ones you’d like to keep. Safe to say that we all want to keep our natural teeth for as long as we can. Lets get into the stages of cavity formation and how you can have better oral health, and keep your teeth healthy.
There are two pearls of wisdom in that one remark. The first tells you how important oral care is, the second explains what happens when you neglect it. It’s a complete answer to the age-old question at least some of us still ask ourselves at the end of an exhausting day: “What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t brush tonight?”
A lot, actually!
A healthy mouth and teeth are often the first signs of overall good health and well-being. Conversely, issues with oral hygiene can affect other bodily systems.
Oral hygiene encompasses four elements – teeth, gums, tongue, and breath. Having all four of them in perfect working order is a sign that all other bodily systems are doing great. A problem with any of those elements is a reason to worry.
That’s because the mouth is the gateway to our digestive and respiratory systems. It is also teeming with bacteria – some good, others harmful. Maintaining good oral health is the only way to ensure bad bacteria never go beyond our mouths. If they do, it can lead to several problems down the line.
There is evidence to suggest that some types of heart disease, problems during pregnancy and childbirth, and certain respiratory infections like pneumonia are linked to bacteria found in the mouth.
Plaque is a sticky substance that builds up as a thin layer over your teeth. That happens every time you fail to brush your teeth after meals.
Plaque is soft at first but hardens over time and becomes difficult to remove. It’s a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and eventually tooth loss if left unchecked.
Plaque buildup can be countered by maintaining good oral hygiene, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks, and seeing your dentist twice a year.
How does plaque form on teeth and cause cavities? Let’s find out.
A key component of our daily diet is carbohydrates, which we consume in the form of bread, beans, cookies, potatoes, pasta, and corn. Enzymes in saliva break down these carbs into sugars called saccharides. These sticky sugars can cling to the surface of our teeth long after we’re done eating unless we brush them out. When we don’t, they start attracting bacteria.
Bacteria feeding on these sugars latch onto our teeth and multiply, eventually colonizing a nook or cranny on the tooth surface. That is the beginning of a cavity.
The mouth’s moist environment is perfect for the growth of these bacteria. They accumulate to form a white film that we call plaque or tartar. It is what comes off when you gently scrape your teeth after a meal.
Plaque is constantly forming on your teeth, and unless removed, it can combine with minerals from your saliva to create a hard coating of calcified plaque on teeth called calculus.
Let’s now understand how plaque contributes to the formation of cavities in further detail. There are several stages of cavity formation:
Little white spot: As bacteria in plaque feed on the sugars stuck on your teeth, they release an acidic by-product. These acidic byproducts start to demineralize the outermost layer of your teeth called the enamel, leaving a white spot.
Enamel decay: As the acidic byproducts of the bacteria continue to break down the minerals in tooth enamel, a tiny hole or cavity is created on the surface of your tooth.
Dentin decay: Once a portion of the enamel is worn away, the bacteria and acids reach the next layer of your teeth called dentin. It is softer than enamel and is easily worn away. Because dentin has tiny tubules that communicate with the tooth’s nerve, dentin under attack from bacterial acids can cause tooth sensitivity or pain.
Pulp decay: The deepest layer of the tooth is called the pulp. Once the acids and bacteria have breached the dentin, they reach the pulp, which contains nerve endings and blood vessels. Once that happens, a simple filling is no longer enough to cure your pain or repair the tooth. The only option to save it now is a root canal treatment.
Abscess formation: Eventually, the bacteria exit the tooth through a tiny opening at the bottom of the root, where all the bacteria and food debris accumulate to form an abscess. This causes severe dental pain that may radiate out to other areas of your jaw and head.
Yes, it can get pretty ugly in terms of the amount of pain you’ll be in if you don’t maintain good oral hygiene.
If you’re wondering how to keep plaque from forming on teeth, there’s an easy answer – regular brushing and flossing.
The strokes of your toothbrush break down bacterial colonies on your tooth surfaces. Toothpaste contains abrasives that scrub away the plaque and polish the tooth surface.
Many popular brands of toothpaste contain fluoride, an ingredient that helps strengthen the enamel after it has been worn down by bacterial acids. It does that by forming a thin layer on your tooth surface and preventing plaque formation for some time.
However, plaque continues to form every time you eat, which makes it so important to be regular with your brushing. Other oral hygiene tools such as floss and mouthwash can also help prevent plaque buildup.
Finally, don’t forget about your tongue because bacteria build up there too. Make sure to use a tongue scraper or the textured back of your toothbrush to clean it out.
Even with regular brushing and good oral hygiene habits, getting a professional checkup and dental cleaning at least once every six months is important.
It’s the only way for your dentist to identify and address plaque buildup early on and prevent cavities.
Our dental office uses ultrasonic scaling machines to clean up your teeth and gums and remove plaque and calculus from spots that brushing does not reach.
Book an appointment for a dental checkup or cleaning at our clinic in Montrose, CA by calling 818-839-7475 today!