Cavities

Cavities

Dental Decay

Dental caries (decay) is a bacterial infection, first of the enamel, then of the dentin of the tooth. The tradition in dentistry has been to surgically remove the diseased portion of the tooth by “drilling” out the decay and then filling the resulting hole in the tooth with some inert material. As most adults know, this procedure will be performed over and over again when new decay begins or when the filling (often silver) breaks or the tooth fractures.

Would it not be better to eliminate the cause of the infection and thus not be forced to have big holes drilled in the teeth? We believe the bacterial cause of the infection should be addressed.

Preventing the Risk of Dental Decay

There are several positive steps that you can take to reduce your risk of dental decay. First, all the active decay in your mouth should be treated immediately. Next, all teeth that would benefit from sealants (see additional handout) should be treated. This will prevent bacteria from reaching into the pits, fissures, and grooves that normally exist on the occlusal (biting) surfaces of teeth. Any stray bacteria that may still be in the sealed area are effectively cut off from their source of food and become inactive. Although sealants are most effective on teeth that have not been previously restored, they can be successfully placed on teeth filled with bonded fillings.

The infection can be treated with antimicrobials. We believe that the use of a fluoridated mouthrinse twice daily or use of a prescription fluoridated dentifrice as directed provides a great advantage. Not only is fluoride effective against bacteria, it also creates an environment that promotes remineralization of slightly damaged enamel. The decay process is reversed and the tooth may not have to be drilled. We may also prescribe a chlorhexidine mouthrinse, an antimicrobial oral rinse that has a great effect on Streptococcus mutans.

Your diet and oral self-care are important in dental decay prevention. When you eat junk food and drink sugary liquids, your teeth are more prone to decay. The more frequently you snack, the more prone your teeth will be to decay. If your brushing and flossing are not effective, your teeth will be more prone to decay. When you can’t brush after a meal, at least rinse your mouth with water within 15 minutes to dilute the acids forming from the ingested food or drink. If you have a diminished salivary flow, take frequents sips of water during the day to help dilute the acids produced by the bacteria.

If you have a continuing problem with active decay, we recommend more frequent preventive recare appointments. It has been repeatedly shown that patients who have good oral self-care and maintain a recare interval of 3 to 4 months have many fewer dentally related (cavities or gum disease) problems.

The routine 6-month recare interval is no longer our recommended schedule. I personally would be happy if I never heard that “see your dentist every six months” phrase again. That recare interval was based on a 50-year-old philosophy that never had any scientific basis! Times have changed. Present dental practice is based on proven scientific information. You might need to have your teeth cleaned by the hygienist twice each year or you may need to be seen more frequently.

For certain individuals, we also suggest testing the oral bacterial levels to determine the magnitude and presence of a Streptococcus mutans infection and to determine your risk level for future dental disease.

If you have any questions about the prevention of dental decay, please give us a call or "ask the dentist."