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Cavity development (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dental cavities or dental caries. As a kid, you probably learned that you will have a dental cavity if you eat too much candy. Although that is an easy concept for a kid to swallow, it is a way over-simplified version of the story. Formation of dental cavities is in fact a complicated process. As an adult, you should know the full story of dental cavities. It can save you hundreds of dollars on dental work.

Your teeth are made of minerals (calcium and phosphate). On the surface your teeth constantly undergo two processes known as demineralisation and remineralisation. When the pH in your mouth drops below 5.5, demineralisation occurs faster than remineralisation. Simply put, you are on your way to getting a cavity. This can happen due to several reasons such as consuming acidic foods or beverages, or carbohydrate fermentation.

So what is carbohydrate fermentation? you ask. It is pretty similar to the process of making beer, but instead of alcohol, the bacteria make acid that can dissolve your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on food debris (pizza, caramel, bread, etc…) you left behind. As they extract energy by breaking down carbohydrates, they produce lactic acid as a by-product.

Fortunately, demineralization can be slowed down or even reversed by remineralization. Once your enamel is dissolved by acid, the mineral you lost stays in your saliva, and they can be redeposited back onto your enamel when the pH is back to natural. If you live in a place where water is fluoridated, or you are receiving fluoride treatment, the dissolved mineral forms a calcium fluoride complex that can also be deposited onto your enamel. This calcium fluoride complex is much stronger than your natural enamel. It forms a thin layer on the surface of your teeth, and protects it from bacterial attack and acidic food.

While fluoride treatment and natural remineralisation can repair micro-cavities(cavities that are just beginning to form), an actual cavity requires a filling by your dentist. So keep up with your good dental hygiene. Don’t miss your regular check-up and cleaning. Spot a micro-cavity before it turns into a full size cavity, and fix it with fluoride paste before it’s too late!

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