Cavities: Causes and Prevention

By: J. Shahangian, DDS, MS- San Diego Board Certified Pediatric Dentist

What Are Cavities?
The food you eat meets bacteria and germs in your mouth.  These two things can lead to plaque buildup.  I may have talked to you about plaque. Plaque is bacteria or sticky film.  Plaque, also known as bacteria, enjoys starches and sugars found in foods your child eats everyday such as: cake, soda pop, candy, milk, and ice cream.  Plaque eats the sugars found in these kinds of foods and produces acids that lead to teeth decay.  That is why it is important to clean your teeth after eating so that bacteria do not have a food supply to grow.  Otherwise, plaque can lead to erosion of your teeth enamel (the hard surface of the teeth).  Did you know that even healthy foods such as some vegetables juices and fruits can cause cavities if your child does not brush his/her teeth regularly?  Plaque leads to weaker teeth by producing acids that break down the tooth enamel.  Over time, your child’s teeth are weakened and are less able to fight off germs.  Eventually, your child will develop tooth decay.  It is important to remember that the more food you eat and the longer the food particles stay in your mouth, the more damage plaque has on your teeth.

The first step in fighting cavities is removing the cavity from your mouth.  I will do this by numbing your child’s mouth with an anesthetic.  Next, I will use special medical equipment such as a tiny drill, to get rid of the tooth decay.  Lastly, I will fill the space left with a silvery or white filling.

The filling seals the open space where the tooth decay or cavity once was so the bacteria and germs are not able to do damage.[1]

Preventing Cavities
The best preventive method for fighting plaque (which can leads to cavities) is your own saliva.  Saliva serves as a buffer and a remineralizing agent.  One good way of stimulating saliva production is chewing sugarless gum in between brushes.

However, the best method for preventing the formation of cavities of your children’s teeth is to teach your child how to brush and floss two times a day (for infants you can do this by using a small wetted washcloth or gauze to wipe off the teeth).  Fluoride, the main ingredient for toothpaste and a mineral substance found in community water systems, is a natural substance that helps remineralize the tooth structure.  Sometimes, when children at are at high to medium risk for cavities, I may suggest mouth rinses, high concentration fluorine gels, or dietary fluoride supplements.

It is important that your child visit me so I can determine whether your child is at high risk for developing cavities.  Also, hereditary predisposition (a history of dental cavities in the family) can also play an important role in the susceptibility for your child’s teeth to develop cavities.  Examples include: tooth structure, shape, size which are genetic markers that are passed down generation to generation.  Other examples are grooves or deep pits in the teeth which are perfect places for plaque buildup.

Ideal places where cavities originate are those hard-to-clean areas located between teeth, the pits and fissures between teeth, and the edges in the crown of the tooth.

Possible cavity symptoms may include:

  • toothache
  • sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, foods, or liquids in your teeth
  • Teeth decay such as white spots
  • Tooth discolorations

It is important to schedule routine visits to our office for your child because cavities can develop without any pain or symptoms.

More serious problems can result from your child’s cavities if they are left untreated.  These complications can include: loss of the tooth itself, permanent deterioration, root canal, or infection of the core of the tooth (pulp).

There are other preventive measures to take so your child does not develop teeth decay.  One is limiting the consumption of high sugar foods, and especially foods that are sticky.  The longer the food remains in your gums, the greater the chance your child will have for developing cavities.  Instead, provide healthy snacks for your child that are low in sugar and that include white milk, dark bread, fresh fruits, raw vegetables, whole grain and enriched cereals, and other snacks.  If you give your child high sugar foods, it is best to give your child these high sugar foods with their regular meals.[2]


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