By Maggie Puniewska
“You have a cavity” is something that no one wants to hear at the dentist’s office but almost everyone has. A recent survey found that a whopping 92 percent of adults ages 20-64 have had at least one cavity. Plaque, the sticky film of bacteria on teeth, interacts with certain food and drink to form acid, which slowly eats away at enamel.1 Enamel is tough though, and saliva, fluoride, water, and healthy foods can help prevent cavities from forming.
Cavities start small and often happen without notice, so knowing how to best prevent them can be confusing. Knowing the facts can help you keep your smile healthy for years to come.
Here’s the truth behind the most common misconceptions about cavities.
MYTH: Only sugar causes cavities.
FACT: Sugar is certainly the cavity bad guy but candy, dessert, and soda aren’t the only suspects – starches like bread and pasta stimulate the bacteria on teeth to produce enamel-attacking acids as well.2
MYTH: Frequent snacking will help the mouth produce saliva and ward off cavities.
FACT: Chewing activates saliva flow in the mouth. Saliva is full of minerals like calcium and phosphate that can help protect enamel, so it would be reasonable to think that eating several times a day would help keep teeth healthy.3 But here’s the catch: constantly introducing starches and sugars into the mouth keeps acid production up, so more enamel is damaged.4 Even after you are done eating, acids can still be forming up to 20 minutes later.5
You don’t need to give up healthy snacks, even those that do contain natural sugars, like fruits or whole grains. The key is to limit constant grazing so that teeth have some time to recover.
MYTH: If I have a cavity, I will feel it.
FACT: It’s true that if tooth decay is advanced, you might feel general pain or experience pain when eating something sweet, hot or cold. But, when a cavity is forming, you might not have any symptoms at all.6 That’s why it’s important to get regular checkups and cleanings, even when you don’t feel any pain or sensitivity.
MYTH: A child’s baby teeth can’t get cavities because they are temporary.
FACT: Any enamel, especially in young children, is prone to decay. In kids, the most common reasons cavities form are due to drinking sugary beverages, being exposed to cavity causing bacteria, or not getting enough fluoride.
To protect their teeth, it’s important to limit sugary drinks and snacks and instill healthy brushing and flossing habits early on.7
MYTH: Dairy products aren’t important for your teeth.
FACT: The calcium in cheese, milk, and yogurt helps replace minerals in your teeth that might have been zapped by foods like soda and sweets.8 And cheese could be especially helpful: A new study from The Academy of General Dentistry found that cheese may be especially helpful in decreasing the bacteria found in the mouth, and therefore limiting the risk of tooth decay.9 Unfortunately, dishes like mac and cheese and soft cheeses like ricotta won’t do the trick, so it’s best to stick to harder varieties like Cheddar and Parmesan to score the benefits.
MYTH: The mercury in dental amalgam, or silver fillings, is dangerous.
FACT: There are many different types of mercury and the mercury that we think of as a health hazard--the one that can build up in fish--is actually not the same as the material used in fillings. The CDC, FDA, and EPA have found that dental amalgam is a safe and durable option to fill cavities.10
Sources not cited or linked to above:
1-4 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research survey;
https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/oralhealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/Pages/ToothDecayProcess.aspx (link opens in new window)
This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.
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