October is Caries Disease Awareness Month! This month dentists across the country are focusing on changing the way they educate and talk about tooth decay. In an effort to educate people in very short dental appointments, many dentists have oversimplified the process of how cavities form. A cavity is the end result of a progressive disease. It’s true! If you have a cavity, it means you have an active oral disease. The bad news is caries disease is progressive and transmissible, the good news is it is also preventable! Let’s dig in and uncover how we get the disease and what we can do to prevent it.
What Causes Caries Disease?
Every time food or drink enters our mouth, we change the pH balance of the oral environment. The mouth is an ecosystem, full of bacteria and microbes, some good and some bad. When we do things that lower the pH of the environment in the mouth, the ecosystem changes. Acidic bacteria thrive and good bacteria die off. When the complex network of bacteria (biofilm) on the teeth are stimulated by an acidic environment, you have an active disease called Caries. Caries Disease is a biofilm dysfunction that in its end stage causes cavitation of the tooth.
Caries disease is caused by many factors, some of them include:
- Poor oral hygiene.
- Too much bacteria can throw off the ecosystem, it needs to be removed regularly in order to prevent caries disease.
- Dry mouth is a leading contributor to caries.
- Saliva is your natural defense system; it helps protect your teeth by keeping your oral pH neutralized.
- The food we eat or drink automatically changes our pH balance.
- While we have to eat and drink, we can mitigate our risk by eating 3 meals a day, and avoiding sipping on beverages other than water all day long. Frequency is as important as what we are putting in our mouth.
- Certain treatments like radiation on the head or neck can also change our saliva and increase the bad bacteria in the mouth.
How Can We Prevent Caries Disease?
Since we know poor oral hygiene can increase our risk, we can conclude that good oral hygiene will decrease our risk. Brushing and flossing regularly, as well as using a neutral or elevated pH mouth rinse, will help keep your mouth healthy and clean.
Limiting sugary foods and snacking between meals will also give your teeth a break from the drop in pH, allowing the oral environment to get to neutral and recover. Drinking water instead of juice or coffee and other flavored drinks will help limit the growth of harmful bacteria as well.
Talking to your dentist about fluoride, xylitol, and nanohydroxyapatite in order to keep your teeth as strong as possible can also be an important preventive measure.
Finally, make sure you visit your dentist and have regular cleanings and checkups. This will ensure your dentist can help create a plan for your specific needs and monitor any problem areas.
Caries Disease Treatments
The best treatment is of course, prevention. However, there are ways your dentist can predict your risk for getting decay in the future. Ask us about having a Caries Risk Assessment performed at your next appointment to see if you are low, moderate, or high risk.
If you have a cavity, don’t panic! Most people will get a couple throughout their lifetime. The key is catching them early. The most common treatment once the disease has progressed is to remove the damaged area of the tooth and fill it. A filling will prevent further decay from forming in that spot, but does not treat the biofilm dysfunction. In order to reduce your risk and treat the disease we can discuss treatment options like rinses, toothpastes, and things to reduce dry mouth.
Decay is a Disease
It’s important to know exactly what is contributing to your disease, so we will walk through the potential reasons and together develop a plan to reduce your risk. Caries disease can be disruptive to your life, and cause intense pain, but with the right team by your side you can keep your smile healthy and happy.