A cavity in a tooth can heal itself! If a cavity is small and only into the first layer of the tooth ( the enamel) the tooth may be able to heal and become solid again. For this to happen certain factors must take place though. First, the patient must commit to a daily home care routine. This includes thoroughly cleaning all surfaces of the teeth. We recommend brushing with a fluoride containing toothpaste for two minutes each time twice a day. Flossing once a day is also recommended. If you can brush and floss right before going to bed, that is the best time since saliva flow decreases at night, therefore creating an ideal environment for cavities to form or grow if there is plaque or food left on the teeth all night. The important thing is to clean ALL surfaces of ALL teeth daily
Secondly, we recommend a low sugar diet. Food containing sugar or carbohydrates provides food for cavity causing bacteria. Limiting sugar to mealtimes and limiting snacking on sugary foods and drinks can help control cavities. Some people don’t realize that foods like bread or pretzels break down to sugar when we eat them. It’s not just candy that leads to cavities.
Lastly, you must have adequate saliva to help wash away food particles from your teeth. Saliva flow can be affected by many common medications, radiation therapy, auto immune diseases, or inadequate fluid intake. Your dentist and primary care doctor can help with managing your saliva flow. People with reduced saliva flow can benefit from everything I mentioned above, and also more frequent dental visits, topical fluoride treatments, prescription strength toothpaste, and even medication. Everyone can make sure they drink lots of water every day.
When a cavity starts, bacteria will demineralize an area of tooth enamel. At this point, if the patient adheres to the suggestions above, there is still a chance that the cavity will remineralize. If caught early enough it is possible for the tooth to return to perfect condition. More often though, even if remineralized, the area will be a weak spot. As soon as poor oral hygiene or poor diet return, that remineralized area will be the first place to be attacked.
Scientists and researchers are working in these areas to develop better strategies to combat tooth decay and remineralize teeth. Unfortunately no amount of science can overcome poor hygiene habits and a high sugar diet! So keep up the brushing and flossing and don’t let cavities start.