In this podcast, Dr. Nammy Patel talks with John Maher about the basics of cavities. She explains what people need to know about cavities and addresses some common misconceptions.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California. Helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole body health and author of the best selling books, Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living and Total Wellness: Understanding the Link Between Your Teeth and Your Health. Today, our topic is the basics of cavities. Welcome, Dr. Nammy.
Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi, John. How are you?
What Is a Cavity?
John: Good, thanks. So just kind of looking back over our lives, I think a lot of us had cavities when we were kids, but we might not know a lot about them. What is a cavity really?
Dr. Nammy: A cavity is basically a hole that is created on the tooth surface or the root surface of the teeth. And the reason why cavities occur is accumulation of bacteria or a lot of acid in the mouth. Those are the two main reasons that cavities occur. So cavities can occur, like I said, a buildup of bacteria.
That can be because if somebody is not brushing and flossing properly or isn’t coming to the dentist on a regular basis, or if they have a hormonal imbalance or anything like that, that’s making the bacteria grow. So most commonly we hear about pregnancy gingivitis.
It’s during the pregnancy, women have a lot of this hormone called progesterone that tells the body that you’re pregnant. But what that does, it makes bacteria grow faster. So normally bacteria in the mouth is growing every 20 minutes, so when the hormone progesterone’s around, it’s growing every two minutes.
So there’s an accumulation of bacteria that occurs. And as the bacteria grows, they release acids and those acids are what eats away the tooth structure or dissolves it and leaves a hole in the mouth, and that’s what we call a cavity. The other reason for a cavity, like I said, is acids.
And so acid reflux is a perfect example of someone who can get cavities. Because when there is acid that’s coming into the mouth, what that does is it dissolves this crystalline structure that the enamel has and makes a hole in it over time.
Does Sugar Create Cavities?
John: When I was a kid, I had cavities and I think I was always told like, “Oh well, you shouldn’t be eating too many sugary sweets and things like that.” Does sugar create cavities?
Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. So sugar is doing both things that I was talking about. It’s making bacteria grow because it’s food for the bacteria and number one. Number two, as they’re growing, they do release acids, which are going ahead and causing cavities.
The other thing about sugars is when you’re eating sugars, you’re eating them like snacking frequently. Right? So you’re not just eating them one time, you’re sucking on a piece of candy. So what that does is dissolves in the mouth. And as the candy dissolves in the mouth, it decreases the pH of the mouth creating even a more acidic environment, which leads to cavities.
What Are the Symptoms of Cavities?
John: What are the symptoms of cavities? How do you know that you might be getting one?
Dr. Nammy: The most common symptom is discomfort. So there’s usually pain, there’s pain to sweets, there’s pain to hot and cold, there’s pain sometimes when you’re chewing. And a lot of times you can see it because it’ll turn black. You’ll look in your mouth and it’ll be a black line inside your mouth that is a cavity.
Do Kids Get Cavities More Often Than Adults?
John: Do kids get cavities more often than adults do, and why would that be the case?
Dr. Nammy: The generation or the population that gets cavities most, one, is babies because they’re having baby bottles. So when they’re having the baby bottle, that baby bottle, the milk has sugars in it. So we see a lot of cavities in babies, mainly on the front teeth.
That’s one example. The second one is children, yes, because they’re snacking on chips and crackers and not rinsing their mouth afterwards. So those carbohydrates stick to the teeth really, really, really well, and so we see an increase in cavities.
The other population that we see a lot of cavities in is actually the geriatric or the older population. And it’s because usually after 50 and 60 we start getting dry mouth. So again, that saliva is not there to wash away the bacteria after we eat. So there’s an acidic environment that’s created and there tends to be a lot of cavities.
How Do You Prevent Cavities?
John: How do you go about preventing cavities?
Dr. Nammy: The best way to prevent cavities is going to be brushing and flossing your teeth and coming to the dentist regularly. The other thing is eating snacks that are easily cleansible in the mouth. For example, if you had a choice between almond butter or an apple, I would take the apple because the apple is self cleansing.
When you eat almond butter, I feel like it gets stuck to my teeth, so it takes a lot longer for the saliva to wash it away. Versus when there’s an apple, you chew it and you swallow it and there aren’t little pieces stuck in between the teeth or on tops of the teeth. So it’s much better to eat something that is very cleansible and that works really well.
There are other products that are out there that are really great to help prevent cavities, including probiotics, including we even have solutions in the office that contain silver in it. The silver helps decrease the acidity in the mouth and that helps prevent cavities. So that works really well as well.
Does Drinking Water Help to Prevent Cavities?
John: You mentioned that the acids in your mouth can cause cavities and that as we age, we don’t have as much saliva in our mouths that wash away those acids. Can just taking a drink of water after you finish eating, can that help to prevent cavities?
Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. I absolutely recommend anytime you eat anything, swish your mouth out and swallow. I mean, you can totally do that wherever you are, if you’re out route to a business meeting, enjoy a wonderful meal and then swish your mouth out with water.
And ideally about three times or so, just so you can wash everything away that’s in the nooks and crannies of the teeth. And if you’re not able to get out and brush and floss your teeth right away, which totally makes sense with our busy lives, at least rinse your mouth out. Rinsing that mouth out will help prevent cavities immensely.
Best Way to Treat Cavities
John: If you do have cavities, what’s the best way of treating them?
Dr. Nammy: The best way of treating cavities is first of all, come into our office a call and let’s take a look and see if we can re-mineralize the tooth structure. There are many times where you can re-mineralize the tooth structure with calcium phosphate, and that’s a number one measure.
The second is if we do need to do fillings or small fillings, that’s where we usually start by doing small fillings with lasers. They’re non-painful, they’re super comfortable, easy to take care of right away. And if they’re more progressed or more advanced, of course, we’ll go ahead and do a filling or a crown, whatever is needed in order to stop the decay.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Dr. Nammy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Dr. Nammy: My pleasure, John.
Contact Green Dentistry If You Have Cavities or Questions
John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website at sfgreendentist.com or call 415 433 0119.