What is a Cavity?
Cavities are permanently damaged areas that form after enamel has been eaten away. Also known as dental caries, cavities are the beginning of tooth rot. If not addressed, a cavity can eat away the entire inside of the tooth. This includes the root (or pulp) that is connected to nerves, blood vessels, and other gum tissue (7).
You may not notice cavities right away. A dentist identifies early cavities by looking for soft spots on the teeth. If a cavity has been present for a while, then you may get a toothache or pain in one spot when you eat something hot, cold, or sweet. At this point, you should visit a dentist so they can repair the cavity before it spreads to the entire tooth.
Repairing Dental Decay
The stages of conventional dental repair are as follows:
- Small cavity: a dentist removes the decayed/rotting portion of the tooth with specialized dental tools. The remaining exposed, healthy hole in your tooth is then filled with silver amalgam, gold, porcelain, or a composite (8).
- Crown: If a cavity has spread to most of the surface (and inside) of your tooth, then your dentist will have to remove all of the rotted areas and cover the rest of the surface of the tooth with a crown. Crowns use the same materials as fillings (9).
- Root canal: once tooth decay reaches the root of the tooth, your dentist will need to remove the root, nerve, any blood vessels, and any affected tissue beneath the tooth. The root is filled with a sealant, and the remainder of the tooth is covered with a crown (10).
- Dental implant: If the root has been affected and there is not enough tooth remaining for a root canal, you or your dentist may opt to have the tooth pulled. Implants help to prevent further damage to the tissue and jawbone beneath the tooth. After pulling the affected tooth, your dentist will drill a root implant into the bone socket. Once your jawbone has healed around the implant, they will attach an artificial tooth to it (11).
- Dentures: Dentures are artificial, removable teeth. When a group or all of a person’s teeth are removed (usually due to a combination of poor dental hygiene and gum disease), dentures are used to replace the teeth (12). However, they’re usually the last resort.
How to Stop Tooth Decay
Here are a few ways to stop (or reverse!) tooth decay in its tracks. If you already suffer from severe tooth decay, visit a dentist immediately to avoid losing your teeth and prevent gum disease.
1. Soak up More Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your teeth remineralize (13). Tooth enamel is made up mostly of calcium and phosphate – both of which require vitamin D for absorption (14). Believe it or not, your teeth contain their own vitamin D receptors for this very reason (15). Increase your vitamin D intake with food and be sure to spend some time in the sun to activate it.
2. Get Enough Phosphorous
As mentioned above, phosphorous is a key component of tooth enamel. The calcium in your teeth requires phosphorous to create hardened enamel and provide adequate protection (16). Phosphorus-rich foods include nuts, meats, eggs, garlic, tomatoes, wheat germ, beans, and more (17).
3. Eat Fewer Sweets
The science of tooth decay is relatively simple: the acid that eats away at your enamel cannot form without sugars from your food. As such, dietary sugars are considered the biggest risk factor in regards to dental health. The World Health Organization’s guidelines suggest that a maximum of 5% of your total daily calories can from refined sugars (18).
4. Stop Drinking Soda
Sodas contain not only incredibly unhealthy amounts of sugar but also enamel-eating acids (19). Even sugar-free diet soda contain harmful acids that can damage your teeth for up to 20 minutes after drinking (20). If you sip on soda all day, that means your teeth are slowly being damaged all day. Limit sodas and fruit juices to one serving (or less!) daily or avoid it completely if you can.