It’s 40 degrees outside and you skip out on that ice cold water that will help cool you down. You’re at the beach and decide against the delicious-looking ice cream you see in the shop window. Even thinking about the pain you’ll experience when biting into your favourite foods makes you shudder.
Let us tell you that the sharp sensation in your mouth isn’t cool (mind the pun) and little black spots aren’t either. Unfortunately, what you might have on your hands is a case of tooth decay and/or a dental cavity. Most people start Googling to see how bad their situation is out of worry they might need a root canal or filling.
But the bigger question really is, can you actually reverse a cavity or tooth decay? The short answer is yes, depending on how severe your condition is. If you suspect your teeth might be at risk or you’re already experiencing substantial pain, it’s time to get on top of it. Here are the answers you’re looking for.
Tooth decay vs cavities – what’s the difference?
The words cavity and tooth decay are often used interchangeably, but these bad boys are not the same. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Here’s a quick rundown on the differences.
Tooth decay happens over time, it’s the eroding condition of teeth which have their enamel weakened and are being exposed to harmful bacteria. Cavities on the other hand are the holes left in the teeth that are caused by decay. In short, decay is the ongoing condition and cavities are the result left behind.
Cause of Tooth Decay
When the tooth enamel is weakened (usually due to plaque buildup and poor dental hygiene) it becomes more susceptible to bacteria and acids in the mouth
These bacteria and acids begin to erode the tooth and cause tooth decay.
Cause of Dental Cavities
When tooth decay is left untreated, it continues to escalate
Eventually, it will leave permanent openings and holes in your teeth
These holes are dental cavities.
Symptoms of Tooth Decay + Dental Cavities
If you have any or all of these symptoms, book in a check up with your dentist to assess whether you have tooth decay or dental cavities.
Sensitive teeth and pain triggered by hot or cold foods
White spots on teeth
Holes or black spots on teeth
Pain when biting down.
Who is most likely to experience tooth decay?
While anyone can experience tooth decay and cavities at any age, under any circumstances, there are some extra risk factors that can make these toothy troubles more likely.
Young children and teenagers whose teeth may not have fully developed tend to be one of the highest percentage groups who experience tooth decay. Alternatively, seniors are also at higher risk. As we age, teeth can naturally start to wear down and our gums may slightly recede. This makes older adults more susceptible to decay and damage.
Heartburn / Gastroesophageal reflux disease
If you experience heartburn and acid reflux, you may be more likely to experience tooth decay as the extra acid in your mouth can wear down your teeth and promote damage. If you experience reflux issues it’s best to chat with your dentist about extra preventative measures you can take to protect your teeth.
Similarly to heartburn and reflux issues, if you live with a chronic illness that causes you to vomit regularly, the stomach acid that enters your mouth can wear down your enamel and cause decay.
If you often experience dry mouth (commonly caused by different medications) the lack of saliva can mean that bacteria and acids linger on the teeth for longer periods.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Babies can experience tooth decay when they frequently have a bottle of milk, formula or juice before bed. These drinks coat their teeth and remain there for several hours promoting bad bacteria growth and encouraging decay. If giving your bub a bottle is unavoidable before bed, you can still prevent this kind of decay by gently cleaning their teeth with a damp cloth.
Certain foods promote decay more than others. Foods that coat your teeth and are harder for saliva to wash away (things like milk, sugar, sticky foods, cakes etc) can stick to your teeth for hours and feed bad bacteria. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these foods, just have a glass of water after eating to help wash away leftover particles.
Can you reverse tooth decay?
Yes – mild tooth decay can be stopped or even reversed! Whoo! Here are some tips:
Improve your oral hygiene (and yes, that means regular flossing!)
Lower your sugar intake
Improve your diet: you can lower your sugar intake, increase probiotic consumption and consume foods high in calcium for a good starting point!
Take vitamins like Vitamin D, Vitamin B, iron supplements and magnesium. These can help increase saliva production and protect your teeth.
Unfortunately not all tooth decay can be reversed and it really does depend on the level of damage so it’s best to speak to your dentist to ensure that it’s done right. There are many different ways that we can approach decay and will assess your teeth (and the causes of your decay) to help create a plan that will work best for you.
Can you reverse dental cavities?
Unfortunately, when it comes to actual holes and cavities in your teeth, these cannot be reversed and will need to be treated by a dentist. If it’s only a small cavity you may only need a filling to prevent further damage and close up the hole. If it’s reached the nerves of your teeth then you will likely need a root canal to fix the tooth. In extreme circumstances, the tooth may need to be removed all together. This is why early detection of tooth decay is essential!
How to prevent tooth decay and cavities
Preventative care really is the best way to tackle decay and cavities and essentially, the key lies with good brushing habits and preventing plaque buildup. These tips can help support a healthy (and clean) mouth!
Brush your teeth twice daily
Drink water with and after food
Use toothpaste with fluoride
Reduce sugar intake
Go for an annual dental check up to ensure everything is in order.
To learn more about how to properly clean your mouth, keeping it minty fresh and plaque free, read our handy guide: The Sticky Truth – What Really Causes Tooth Plaque and How You Can Prevent It.
If you’re worried that you might have tooth decay or dental cavities, book in for a check up as soon as possible to tackle the problem before it escalates.
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