What is a “cavity” and are they reversible?
By Dr. Matthew Troncone, DDS
Before tooth decay is called a cavity, it’s called “caries”, and the short answer is yes, early caries are reversible but only if it is spotted and measures are taken to prevent further decay. If you’d like to learn more, please read on.
To discuss the finer points of whether or not tooth decay is reversible, I will have to give you a crash course in what tooth decay, or caries, really is and how it happens.
It all starts with bacteria. As they collect on the surface of teeth they form a film, called Biofilm, which tightly sticks to the tooth. When you eat, the bacteria digest the sugars in the food and produce acid. The more sugar in your diet the more acid they produce.
The acid that is produced doesn’t just attack the surface of the tooth; it actually penetrates the enamel and starts to weaken it from the inside out by leeching out minerals. As more and more minerals are dissolved out of the enamel, it begins to weaken. The surface of the enamel is largely unaffected as most of the minerals leached will come from within.
This process of leeching of minerals actually occurs with every meal. However, between meals and in a healthy mouth, your body begins the task of re-mineralizing the enamel by using your saliva to neutralize the acid and provide the enamel with the same minerals it lost that are naturally found in saliva.
This process however is a delicate balance. If there is too much sugar in your diet, or if you let the bacteria accumulate too much on the teeth by not brushing and flossing regularly, your body is unable to keep up with the bacteria.
When too many minerals have been leeched out, the surface of the enamel begins to change in appearance, becoming chalky- white in some areas. If caught early, these areas can still be re- mineralized. However, if the process continues, eventually the enamel inside will be weakened to the point that the surface caves in. It is at this point where caries becomes a cavity and it cannot be reversed.
That last bit is the critical part. I like to use a wet piece of paper as an analogy. If you can carefully dry out the paper, it’s still perfectly usable, but if it tears or rips it’s all over, no way to reverse it. With regular dental care we can help you spot these weak areas and reverse them. But if they cave in, or ‘cavitate’, they make a cavity that your body can not repair, which is where dental fillings come in. So if you really want to avoid fillings, visiting your dentist regularly, combined with brushing and flossing is the best way.
Dr. Matthew Troncone
1092 St. Clair Ave. West