Cavities are one of the most common oral health problems, and the one the public is likely most aware of. We all know the basics of cavities–they’re holes that form in the enamel of the tooth and which allow the tooth to become damaged and infected, right? While that’s (mostly) correct, the fact is that there are a number of misunderstandings, popular myths, and just plain wrong ideas about cavities floating around out there. And that’s a shame–a good understanding of how cavities form, what they do, and how to prevent and treat them is a must for understanding our oral health. So let’s revisit the topic of cavities, learn the truth about cavities, and thus help us all make better and more informed oral health decisions.

Let’s get one of the more potentially dangerous misunderstandings out of the way first: cavities don’t always come with tooth pain. In reality, if we wait for tooth pain to appear before we seek a dental exam, the damage has likely become quite serious indeed. Most cavities begin without pain, and may thus be difficult to detect. This is why regular dental exams are so important–they allow your dentist to detect and address problems before they go too far.

A second misunderstanding is that once a cavity starts, it’s permanent. While that may seem intuitive, the reality is a bit more complicated. If the cavity hasn’t penetrated the enamel when treated the enamel can heal itself through a process called remineralization, in which the tooth absorbs the minerals and materials it needs via the saliva. It’s one of the very few times a tooth can heal itself, and it’s a fascinating process in and of its own right. However, remineralization can only work on some enamel damage–if the cavity has pushed through the enamel into the dentin then a dentist’s work may be required to repair it. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to catch cavities early and deal with them promptly.

Another popular myth is that any discoloration on the tooth is a cavity or nascent cavity. As with so many things, the truth is a bit complicated. While discoloration on the surface of the tooth may be the sign of a cavity, it may also be damage repairing itself, discoloration due to darkly colored food or drink, or a number of other things. While any discoloration should be examined by a dentist, discoloration alone does not guarantee the presence of a cavity.

There’s a strong belief that cavities only affect children. This simply isn’t the case; adults may still get cavities due to poor oral hygiene, bad diet, or a number of other possible issues. Caring for our teeth and gums is a lifelong endeavor, and the fact is that cavities may develop at any stage of life. Older people may be especially vulnerable as diet and oral hygiene may lapse with the isolation that sadly often comes with our golden years.

We’ll close with the most important thing to remember about cavities: they’re both treatable and preventable, but if left untreated they can lead to far worse things, like tooth loss. Good oral hygiene via brushing, flossing, and regular exams, and cleanings along with a healthy diet is a strong foundation for cavity prevention and life-long oral health. So if you’re due for an exam and cleaning, get in touch with us today and we’ll make an appointment for you. It’s one of the best things you can do for your teeth!