The most dreaded words from the dentist

west seattle dentist

“You have a cavity.”

For many people these are the words of death at the dentist office (closely followed by “you need a root canal”).  You don’t have to fear these words though!  It stinks you have a cavity, but usually, if your West Seattle dentist Dr. Christine Kirchner has diagnosed one, it means that its small and not a big deal.  Remember, the word around this dental office is conservative.  Dr. Kirchner likes to take care of these before they get bigger or spread to other teeth.

The Anatomy of a Cavity

What is a cavity anyway?  A cavity (also called decay or caries) is a spot on your tooth where bacteria has eaten through the enamel (the hard top layer of your tooth) to the dentin(the layer of tooth under the enamel).

How does this happen??  Isn’t enamel supposed to be the hardest substance in your body?  Even harder than bone?

Yes, all of that is true.  But, what happens is bacteria eat the food left on your teeth after you eat, specifically the sugars.  When it comes out the other end of the bacteria (eww! Gross!) it is quite acidic and sits on your enamel.  Prime place for this to happen is in between your teeth, where one tooth touches another one.  If it’s not cleaned out regularly (ie: flossing specifically) then that bacteria waste has time to sit there and start burning through your enamel layer.  Another susceptible place for this to happen is on your back teeth in the grooves.  Some of those grooves are quite deep and its hard for even tooth brush bristles to get down and clean out the food that gets trapped down there.

So what can I do to prevent cavities?

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The white area is where a sealent has been placed

Brush brush brush and floss floss floss!  Of course you can change your diet, if you want, but if you’re doing a good job keeping your mouth clean, then its ok to eat those sugars that the bacteria just also happen to enjoy.  Lots of water in your diet helps too.

Another thing you can do to help with those deep grooves in your back teeth is to get sealants placed.  A sealant is kind of like a non-invasive filling (no drilling or getting numb required) that flows into the grooves on your back teeth and keeps them covered so no bacteria set up shop there.  If you got them when you were a kid, it’s possible that they might have been ground down and came out.  Check with Dr. Kirchner or your hygienist at your next checkup to see if you still have yours, or if you might be a good candidate to get some more.

It’s too late for me, I already have a cavity.  Now what?

Check back next week to find out what happens when you get a cavity filled!