Cavities—it’s odd how often the fear of being told we have cavities can keep us from going to the dentist and how that very practice of avoiding the dentist dramatically increases the likelihood of developing cavities. Cavities have more time to grow when your mouth is not attended to regularly by your dental care team. If you look into the mirror and see a spot between your teeth, you may begin to wonder if it’s possible that you’re developing a cavity between teeth. Are cavities only going to develop on chewing surfaces, or can cavities really grow between teeth?
The Interproximal Surprise
The word proximal refers to anything tooth related. Interproximal is anything between the teeth. So, is there such a thing as an interproximal cavity? Unfortunately, there absolutely is such a thing. A cavity can occur anywhere in your tooth enamel, and enamel covers the outside of each tooth. So, you can develop a cavity between your front teeth, between your molars, or between any teeth in your mouth.
A Developing Concern
Despite how it may appear, cavities, properly referred to as dental caries, do not happen overnight. They grow over time when conditions are favorable for dangerous bacteria and bad for the health of your tooth enamel. Caries are a disease of the biofilm in your mouth.
Normally, you have bacteria in your mouth on all the surfaces of your mouth, and it is called your oral biofilm. The bacteria can be healthy bacteria (think of the healthy bacteria in your gut), or it can be unhealthy bacteria. The unhealthy bacteria cause caries disease. To fight the disease, you need to keep the conditions in your mouth unfavorable for bad bacteria to overgrow.
When you eat or drink anything other than plain water, your oral pH drops. This allows the bacteria that are associated with caries disease to thrive since they prefer acidic conditions. They also feed on the sugars and starches in the food you eat or the beverages you drink. As they feed, they create acids, helping to keep the conditions in your mouth favorable for bacterial overgrowth. Bacterial overgrowth, in turn, is a danger for your tooth health. And, the enamel on your teeth is made up of minerals. The minerals in your teeth can dissolve out of the enamel surface in the acid conditions created by eating and bacteria overgrowth. The dissolved minerals allow an opening, a hole, in the enamel surface. That hole is a cavity.
So, a cavity between the teeth can happen because it’s harder to clean between the teeth. Failing to clean away the bacteria growing between teeth allows the bacteria time to damage the enamel. Although there are a number of misconceptions about cavities, they develop where conditions allow.
Finding the Problem
You may not know about an interproximal cavity until you are at your dentist’s office. Because you don’t chew between your teeth and are less likely to put pressure on the weakened spot and have it cause you pain. The first hint of a problem can be caught on a dental x-ray well before it leaves a visible spot or before the spot causes pain. Conversely, you may notice staining or discoloration between your teeth from mineral loss before a full cavity develops. A dental x-ray can help your dentist sort out if it’s a cavity yet or still a spot in need of remineralization.
Preventing Caries In-between
It is possible to prevent cavities between the teeth. Cleaning every tooth surface is an important step for preventing interproximal caries. A lack of minerals in the teeth, lost over time, also contributes to caries, keeping the enamel surface supplied with its necessary minerals can help prevent cavities. Remineralizing oral care products that have the mineral nanohydroxyapatite, which can deposit into the enamel surface, help prevent tooth problems. Regular check-ups with your dental care team also help detect problems between and on the teeth before the develop into full dental caries.