What Causes Tooth Decay in Santa Barbara
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What Causes Tooth Decay in Santa Barbara

Tooth decay is not only the most common dental problem in the world but one of the most common of all health problems. We frequently treat cavities here in our Santa Barbara dentist office. What causes cavities in the first place? Can they be prevented? How? We commonly get asked these and similar questions. This article has been written to help provide the answers.

What Is the Root Cause of Cavities?

Tooth decay is caused by acid in your mouth eating away the layers of your teeth. A cavity is a portion of a tooth that has been destroyed by this acid. See the next question for more information on where this acid comes from.

Stage 1: Acid Attacks the Tooth Enamel

Your teeth are made of several layers. The outer layer is called enamel and it is the hardest substance in your body. It is harder than bone! But it is prone to acid erosion like everything else, and too much exposure to this acid will wear holes in the enamel.

Stage 2: Acid Reaches the Inner Tooth

Once there is a hole in the enamel, the acid can seep through into the next layer of the tooth, called the dentin. It begins eating away at this layer, which is much softer than enamel. Dentin also contains tubes that communicate with the nerve of the tooth, so at this point, you might begin to experience sensitivity from the expanding cavity. Bacteria also joins the acid inside the tooth.

Stage 3: Tooth Decay Worsens

If the cavity is not treated, the decay will continue and eventually reach the inner layer of your tooth. This layer is called the pulp and contains blood vessels and the nerves. The combination of acid erosion and bacteria will cause the pulp to become irritated and inflamed. This presses on the nerve and causes pain, which might extend outward to the bone.

How Does the Acid That Causes Cavities Get Into My Mouth?

The majority of the acid is created by the bacteria that live in your mouth. These bacteria are natural and help break down your food. The starches and sugars you eat become acid as they pass through the bacteria. This forms a sticky film on your teeth called plaque that can be removed by brushing. If it is not removed, the acid in the plaque eats away at the enamel.

Acid can also enter your mouth directly through consuming certain foods and drinks. High-acid foods include soda and tomatoes. Severe heartburn can also result in acid rising from the stomach, through the esophagus, and into your mouth.

Does Diet Affect My Risk of Tooth Decay?

What you eat and drink can impact your risk in several ways. First, the amount of high-acid foods and beverages you consume raises or lowers your risk. Second, the amount of sugar you consume impacts your risk because the bacteria that produce the acid consume sugar.

Finally, frequent snacking can raise your risk because you are providing the bacteria in your mouth with more food and not always brushing immediately after, so they have more time to produce acid. Reducing all three of these factors will lower your risk of developing cavities.

Are Some Teeth More at Risk of Developing Cavities Than Others?

The teeth in the back of your mouth, the molars and premolars, are at the highest risk of tooth decay. These teeth have many grooves and crevices that give bacteria a place to latch onto and begin the work of acid production. These teeth are also harder to clean.

Are Some People More at Risk of Developing Tooth Decay Than Others?

Children, teenagers, and the elderly are at the highest risk of developing cavities. Those who have dry mouths, eating disorders, frequent heartburn, or do not get enough fluoride are also at risk.

Are There Other Things That Can Cause Cavities?

One surprising factor that can lead to a new cavity is the filling of an old cavity. Older fillings can weaken and develop rough edges or holes, making it easier for bacteria and acid to get underneath them. The result is a new cavity under the old filling.

What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Tooth Decay?

The most important thing you can do is to practice good oral hygiene. Brush properly at least twice a day, use mouthwash, and floss once a day. This removes food particles and plaque from your teeth before they have time to cause damage. Reduce the amount of sugar and acid in your diet and watch how often you snack. Finally, get heartburn under control if you suffer from it.

Can Tooth Decay Be Reversed Without Dental Treatments?

Unfortunately, once a cavity has set in, the area the cavity occupies has been destroyed and cannot be replaced or regenerated. The best treatment is prevention. Once you have a cavity, restorative treatment is the only option.

How Much Does It Cost to Treat Cavities in Santa Barbara?

The cost of treating a cavity varies depending on its location and how severe it is. Small cavities can be removed and filled. Larger cavities may need more extensive work and the tooth may have to be covered with a crown or other dental appliance afterward. The worst cavities may require a root canal and a crown to correct. Sometimes decay is so advanced that the tooth may need extraction.

Your dental insurance should cover all or part of the cost of treating any tooth decay. When your provider at See Me Smile Dental and Orthodontics recommends treating a cavity, you will get a treatment plan that includes a financial breakdown of the cost and what you will pay versus what your insurance will pay.

Do You Want a Better Smile?

We offer both preventative and restorative dental care here in our Santa Barbara office at See Me Smile Dental and Orthodontics. We offer orthodontic care too, of course. We treat all ages from birth to elderhood and would love to have you come see us!

Make your first appointment at See Me Smile Dental and Orthodontics by calling (805) 284-0826 today!


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