Dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay, are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel. This damage results when certain bacteria in the mouth produce acid that leaches important minerals, such as calcium and phosphate, out of the tooth enamel. These minerals are important for making the tooth surface hard and resistant to acid.The decay-causing, acid-producing bacteria thrive on exposure to sugars, starches and other refined carbohydrates.The tooth decay process is activated every time we eat or drink.
Fortunately, at the same time this is occuring the saliva that bathes your teeth is trying to push the same minerals back into the teeth. If fluoride is present in the saliva then it also can now become part of the tooth surface making the enamel even harder and more resistant to new acid attacks. This back and forth process is called demineralization/remineralization. It is only when the destructive demieralization process goes on for longer periods of time than the healing reminerlization process that a cavity occurs.
You can strengthen the healing process by brushing with fluoride toothpaste after every meal and using dental floss or another device to clean between your teeth every day. And you can weaken the decay process by not having frequent between-meal snacks and limiting sugary drinks and foods. If you are still getting cavities despite your best efforts, your dentist may recommend home fluoride rinses or applications at the dental office. Your dentist may also recommend dental sealants, a plastic coating that bonds to the pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of the molar teeth preventing bacteria or food debris from sitting on those surfaces. These are primarily recommended for the first and second permanent molars of children soon after these teeth erupt into the mouth, age 6-9 for first molars and 10-13 for second molars.
Excellence in your daily oral hygiene, daily exposure to small amounts of fluoride in toothpaste, water, or rinses, and limiting sugar-containing between-meal snacks work directly to prevent tooth decay. Also, periodic examination of your teeth at the dentist is very important because it provides the opportunity to re-assess your tooth decay risk, to determine how well you have been cleaning your teeth and to catch any small problems when they can still be reversed or treated easily.