Dentists have always been consistent in reminding us to brush and floss to prevent cavities. However, would you immediately get a cavity if you missed brushing your teeth once or twice? In this post, discover how fast bacteria can damage your teeth and progress into a cavity.
Q: How long does it take for a cavity to form?
The five stages of a dental cavity
The formation of a dental cavity is a gradual process, and it all starts with plaque. The bacteria from plaque will sneak their way to the outer layers of your tooth. Dental cavities will only get worse once the bacteria successfully break through the enamel. Here’s how they develop:
- Demineralization: The first stage of tooth decay are the white spots on our teeth. The tooth enamel is the sturdiest substance in our body that consists of minerals.When plaque stays on the tooth, the bacteria will release acids that can remove minerals from the tooth enamel, resulting in dry areas that we often see as white spots. At this point, the dental cavity is still reversible by replenishing the lost minerals in the enamel.
- Enamel damage: Once the surface of the tooth enamel becomes weak, the bacteria will take the opportunity to infiltrate the enamel through tiny holes. You will see the first signs of enamel damage when the affected area turns into light brown.
- Dentin decay: Once bacteria break through the enamel, they will start damaging your dentin. The dentin contains fluid and softer minerals that can speed up cavity formation. It also has tiny pores leading to the tooth pulp, which can cause increased tooth sensitivity. At this stage, your dentist can still restore your tooth with fillings.
- Pulp decay: Tooth pulp contains the nerves and blood vessels of your tooth. When the bacteria reach the tooth pulp, you will start to feel throbbing pain. Your immune response will also be activated and cause inflammation in the affected tooth.
Unfortunately, when the pulp becomes infected, your natural tooth will be beyond saving. A root canal can still be viable for minor tooth damage. However, you will need a tooth extraction if there is almost nothing left in the structure of your tooth.
- Tooth abscess: If the cavity is left untreated, the bacteria will cause an infection in the pulp, spreading through the nerves and blood vessels until it reaches the tip or sides of your tooth root.
A tooth abscess is a dental emergency since the infection and inflammation can spread from your gums, jawbones, neck, and face.
Can a dental cavity heal on its own?
Unlike other parts of our body, our tooth enamel cannot heal itself once it gets damaged by bacteria. It doesn’t have a living tissue to regenerate and rebuild the lost minerals.
Your dentist does not remind you to brush and floss as frequently as possible for nothing. There is no turning back once the cavity breaks through the enamel and reaches the dentin.
Tips to prevent the formation of dental cavities
Even if it takes a while for a cavity to form, you should not leave any chances for the bacteria to damage your teeth. Here are some helpful tips to prevent the progression of dental cavities.
- Brush and floss twice daily: Prevent plaque from forming by keeping up with your oral hygiene. The proper way to clean your teeth is to floss first before brushing. Doing so allows you to clean up the unearthed food debris and loads of bacteria between your teeth.
- Don’t use your teeth as a tool: Using your teeth to open a bottle or hold things can damage your tooth enamel. Always remember that once your tooth enamel is damaged, dental cavities will become irreversible.
- Clean your tongue: Our tongues can also be the breeding ground of cavity-causing bacteria. Make sure to scrape your tongue whenever you brush your teeth.
- Avoid enamel-damaging foods and drinks: Acidic foods and drinks can soften the tooth enamel and make it prone to breakage. These include:
- Citrus fruits
- Fruit juice
- Sour candies and gummies
- Eat more fibrous and dairy foods: Carrots and apples are among the best foods for your teeth. They have fibers that can naturally scrub off plaque formation and remove teeth stains.
- Get periodic teeth cleanings from your dentist: Some surfaces of our teeth can be hard to reach with brushing and flossing alone. So, the plaque can harden between your teeth and become a hard white substance called tartar. Tartar is a substance filled with bacteria that only a dentist can remove using a dental tool.
Nip tooth decay in the bud and visit your dentist today
Early prevention of tooth decay is the only way for you to keep and preserve your natural teeth. Let our dental team help you get ahead of the progression of a cavity. Fine Arts Dentistry provides professional cleanings and tooth fillings in Matthews. You may schedule an appointment now, so we can start saving your natural teeth.