Why Do I Get Cavities and How Can I Prevent Them?

A common question for dentists – Why do I have these cavities? Most people have one or two. Cavities are holes that develop on teeth as a result of decay. The truth is that while all of us are at risk, most tooth decay can be prevented. A healthy oral care routine and smart food choices can lower your risk.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is a disease that damages and breaks down teeth. Did you know that your teeth are covered by a sticky film of bacteria called plaque? These bacteria turn the sugars in the food you eat into acid, which breaks down your tooth enamel. The weakened enamel allows decay to get through and a cavity to form. That cavity can spread into the internal layers of your tooth. Untreated, the decay can spread, causing pain and potential tooth loss.

How can I tell if I have tooth decay?

Not everyone has the same level of risk for tooth decay. You may have an increased risk if you:

  • Have a diet of sugary food and drinks
  • Do not brush and floss regularly
  • Experience dry mouth
  • Have weak enamel due to family history or a childhood illness

Here are some signs to look for:

  • Spots on your teeth
  • Consistent bad breath
  • Loose fillings
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Tooth pain

You may not be aware of any signs or symptoms. That’s why it is essential to schedule regular dental exams.

What can be done if I have tooth decay?

The type of treatment your dentist will recommend will depend on the size and location of the decay. For example, if the decay is detected in an early stage, fluoride treatments may be all that is required. However, if decay has formed a cavity, you’ll need a filling or perhaps a crown. A large cavity that has infected the tooth’s pulp may require a root canal procedure or even an extraction.

What can I do to avoid getting cavities?

You can help prevent tooth decay by following these tips from the American Dental Association:

  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals, and limit snacking.
  • Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (where decay often starts) to protect them from decay.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination.

Saliva helps prevent tooth decay, too. It reduces acid damage to teeth by washing away sticky, sugary foods. Saliva also makes acids weaker. The minerals in saliva can help repair teeth. Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy after eating can increase saliva flow and help rinse away sugars.

Remember,  healthy teeth make a healthy smile!

Dr. Nishan Halim

Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in  restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. Dr. Halim recommends GLO Tooth Whitening Systems for his patients – offering a variety of options to fit your budget AND your lifestyle!  Dr. Halim currently provides in-office treatment accompanied by at-home additional treatment OR exclusively at-home treatment. Contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment to discuss your oral health needs.


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