Dear Dr. Cory:
How do we get cavities?
Devin, age 7
Cavities come from plaque (PLAK), a sticky film of bacteria that covers our teeth. Here’s how it happens. First, plaque bacteria release acids that attack a tooth’s outer covering, or enamel, after we eat. Then, the acid makes a small hole, or cavity, in the enamel that allows bacteria to enter the tooth. Finally, bacteria cause the tooth to decay, or break down. Dentists fix cavities with special fillings to keep bacteria out. Cavities that don’t get fixed usually grow bigger and become painful. The tooth may even die and fall out.
What can we do to prevent cavities? Get rid of plaque, of course! Here’s how:
• Brush teeth after meals or at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, especially at bedtime.
• Brush each time for about 2 or 3 minutes. Use a soft-bristled brush in a circular motion all around each tooth. Show your dentist how you brush so she can see if you are brushing correctly.
• Floss once a day to clean between teeth where plaque likes to hide.
• Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and drink lots of water instead of sugary foods and drinks.
• If you can’t brush your teeth after meals or snacks, check with your parents about chewing sugarless gum. Sugarless gum increases saliva flow, decreases acid, and helps to wash away food.
• Visit your dentist twice a year for extra cleaning and to check for cavities. Take care of your teeth and your teeth will take care of you!
If you have a children's health question, Dr. Cory would like to hear from you.
Disclaimer: The Ask Dr. Cory health information is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to, and does not, provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should always consult your family doctor when you have medical questions or concerns about you or your family's health. If this is an emergency, call 911, or contact emergency services in your area.