"But I brush and floss every day."
I hear it almost every day when I have to tell a patient that they have a cavity. We both feel bad. My patient feels like there's nothing they can really do to prevent cavities. I, their dentist, feels like I'm giving them bad news or news they weren't expecting.
So what's happening and can we do anything to stop it?
Cavities are formed when the pH (acidty) on the tooth is less than 5.5. The lower the pH number the more acidic. There are many foods and drinks that are acidic. Soda pop, fruit juices, and sports drinks, even the diets ones are very acidic. But more damaging is the acid caused by the bacteria that may live in your mouth. There are thousands of them. What we are learning is that people that get cavities despite their best efforts oftentimes have more of these acid-producing bacteria than other people. An interesting thing about these acid-producing bacteria is that they thrive and increase in numbers the more acidic the environment.
Some might say, "Just clean them off with brushing and flossing." The problem is that within minutes the bacteria are back on the teeth. Brushing and flossing for some is not enough.
So what can be done? The first thing is to find out if you have the infection that causes cavities. This is done by rubbing a swab on your lower teeth and placing it into a special meter. If the test indicates that you have the infection, then the infection should be treated. The infection can be treated with a combination of very specific mouthrinses, sprays, gums, and toothpastes used for a specific length and amount of time. After 3 months, another test is performed to see if the infection is still present. If the infection is cured, then a preventive regimen is continued.
Early results show that people that seemed to get cavities at every check-up now are finally cavity free. Now that's something to smile about!