Science & Truth Behind Dental Cavities

Science & Truth Behind Dental Cavities
Posted on 03/13/2018

The Science and Truth Behind Your Kids’ Cavities

We all know we need to take good care of our teeth to avoid dreaded cavities – but why is that, anyways? If you’ve ever wondered the mechanisms that cause cavities, and consequently how oral hygiene and dental care help to prevent them, we can help. As a leading orthodontic practice serving the San Antonio & Pleasanton, TX areas, we regularly help patients of all ages achieve a healthy smile through orthodontic treatment. But we also understand the importance of preventive dental treatment – so listen to what our San Antonio orthodontist, Dr. James VandeBerg, has to say about the science and truth behind dental cavities. 

What Causes Cavities?

After running the carpool, cooking a good dinner, and checking homework, you’re somehow able to get the kids to brush their teeth.  Maybe they even floss.  You take them to the dentist every six months or so.  You and your child are doing your part – but why do they still get cavities?

It can be very frustrating and confusing that some kids get cavities and some don’t.  Even siblings can have dramatically different patterns of tooth decay.  What’s the deal? 

It comes down to a simple equation:

Bacteria + Sugar   ---->    ACID on Teeth   ---->    Cavities in Teeth

Acid dissolves enamel, and if left unchecked, it will dissolve enough to form a hole in the tooth (a cavity).  You are probably looking for the toothbrush in that equation and thinking that brushing your teeth will remove the bacteria and prevent cavities.  But here’s the problem: it’s impossible to brush and floss your teeth enough to effectively remove cavity-causing bacteria.  They have always been there and always will be there, as they’re a normal part of your mouth’s microbiome.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

So, does that mean we’re all doomed to have cavities?  Thankfully, it doesn’t.  Some people have weaker teeth while others have “stronger” bacteria, but those factors can’t be altered.  There’s only one other part of the equation we have control over: SUGAR.  

Kids are growing rapidly, and their bodies crave the calories that sweets can provide.  As a parent of three, I know how tough that battle can be.  Improving your child’s likelihood of avoiding cavities can be as simple as not stocking the pantry and fridge with the foods most likely to contribute to cavities – here are a few examples of common household foods that serve to cause and exacerbate cavities:
  • Soda
  • Gatorade
  • Fruit Roll-ups
  • Fruit gummies
  • Chocolate foods
  • Candies
Now, I’m not advocating putting your kids on a kale and water diet tomorrow. But making small changes and swapping the sweets for crackers, cheese, chips, or even diet soda may be all it takes to have a better visit to the dentist next time.

Does Brushing Teeth Prevent Cavities?

If brushing our teeth isn’t preventing cavities, why do we do it?  Here’s a fact that might surprise you: the leading cause of tooth loss is gum disease.  Your kids probably aren’t at risk of their teeth falling out (at least not their adult teeth), but healthy brushing and flossing habits formed at a young age will prevent those issues later in life.  

While brushing is certainly an important part of oral hygiene and keeps your kid’s breath minty fresh, it isn’t doing much to prevent cavities.  In fact, the only component of brushing that will reduce your risk of cavities is the fluoride in the toothpaste.  Without fluoride in toothpaste brushing your teeth has NO impact on the prevention of cavities.  Yes, you read that right.  While fluoride will help repair the parts of the enamel that have dissolved and even make the healthy enamel a little more resistant to acid, the concentrations in toothpaste are too low to have a dramatic impact. 
 

How a Dentist Helps Prevent Cavities

So you’ve cleaned the sweets out of the pantry, dumped the soda, and your kids are brushing twice a day (with toothpaste).  Is that enough?  Unfortunately no.  

It is imperative to see a dentist regularly (recommended every six months) for many reasons.  There are many things that can go wrong in your kids’ mouth that need to be routinely checked on by a dentist in addition to checking for cavities, but we will only focus on cavities here.  

Cavities in their early stages can be detected by your dentist and sometimes reversed with a high-concentration fluoride treatment, making a filling unnecessary.  Fluoride varnishes or foams that your dentist recommends at every visit will repair any weak areas the dentist can’t see and make the healthy enamel more resistant to the acid that causes cavities.  If your child does develop a true cavity, it can be detected and filled before it rapidly spreads inside the tooth and leads to extensive (and costly) dental treatment that is no fun for the child or parents.  

All this is to say that when you take your child to the dentist for a “cleaning,” the actual teeth cleaning part of the appointment is only a small part of what’s really happening.  Your dentist is preventing cavities, fixing them when they’re small and don’t require extensive treatment, and counseling your child on healthy habits that they won’t always listen to their parents about. 

So how do you help your child prevent cavities and preserve the health of their teeth? Follow these three steps:
  • Keep sweets to a minimum
  • Visit your dentist every six months
  • Build good brushing & flossing habits for the long term
Follow these principles, and you’ll keep your child’s teeth healthy for a lifetime. Now that’s something to smile about!

James VandeBerg DDS, MS 
Orthodontist at Boerne Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry

Schedule an Appointment with Your San Antonio Orthodontist

Of course, dental care and cavity prevention aren’t the only things that go into maintaining a healthy smile – the alignment of the teeth is just as important as preventing cavities. If your children are turning 7 and need to schedule their orthodontic evaluation or you’re considering braces for yourself, we’d love to help. Schedule a consultation online today to see how orthodontic treatment can improve your smile and your life. We look forward to hearing from you, and we wish you luck in preventing cavities and maintaining healthy teeth!