While early cavities may be arrested with re-mineralizing pastes and fluoride treatments, untreated cavities can lead toothaches, abscesses, gum disease, and other oral health issues. Understanding how cavities are formed and how to prevent them is imperative to good oral health. Here are three misconceptions patients may have about cavities and how to prevent them.
Cavity-Causing Bacteria Isn't Transmittable
It may sound strange to think that cavities can be contagious, but cavity-causing bacteria, like Streptococcus mutans, can be spread between people. For instance, when people kiss, share cookware, blow on hot food, etc., they can spread oral bacteria. In fact, Science Daily reported a study that found that mothers could transmit oral bacteria to their babies when sharing utensils or cleaning pacifiers with their saliva. It's important to not only brush and floss, but you shouldn't be sharing utensils with family members or friends since that could increase the risk of cavities. Drinking water, chewing sugar-free gum, and using alcohol-free mouthwash can help you reduce and prevent the proliferation of oral bacteria.
Sealants Are a Cure-All for Cavities
A dental sealant is a wonderful preventative treatment; a sealant is a resin that can be placed on chewing surfaces of teeth to provide additional protection to the enamel. Sealants are especially helpful for young children who have trouble brushing/flossing posterior teeth. However, some people may think that sealants will halt all cavity development, which isn't the case. Again, sealants only protect chewing surfaces or the occlusal portion of a tooth. However, interproximal spaces (areas between adjacent teeth), buccal, and lingual surfaces aren't protected by sealants and can still develop cavities. Keep in mind that sealants are also like other restorations—they can wear down over time and may not be as effective as they age. In short, preventative dental care—like at-home brushing/flossing—is still incredibly important even if one has sealants.
Only Unhealthy Foods Lead to Cavities
Sugary sweets and other unhealthy foods can lead to cavities, but you may be surprised to learn that there are healthier food choices as well that could increase one's risk of cavities. Foods that are cariogenic—or promote decay—tend to have highly fermentable carbohydrate contents and/or can be sticky. For instance, Prevention says that sticky foods like raisins and bananas can be cariogenic. Acidic foods and tough foods, like nuts, can also weaken the integrity of enamel, which could make one prone to cavity formation. This doesn't mean that you need to completely cut cariogenic foods from your diet, as some may still be dense with nutrients. However, you should balance cariogenic foods out with ingredients that are known for improving saliva flow and/or cleaning teeth. For instance, foods that are high in fiber—like carrots—can be good at reducing plaque.
Reach out to a representative, such as Dr. Jon Douglas Lesan, DDS, RpH, PA, for more information on cavity development and prevention.