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Did you know that parents can pass tooth decay bacteria on to their children by kissing them or sharing eating utensils? Parents, siblings, anyone sharing food, straws, or toothbrushes, can spread bacteria, and bacterial growth in the mouth is the main cause of cavities.

There are three types of cavities:

Smooth Surface Cavities: these are located on the outside smooth sides of a tooth. This is the most preventable type of cavity, and is also the most easily reversible. It grows the slowest, beginning as a white spot as bacteria dissolve the calcium enamel. This happens in adult teeth between the ages of 20-30.

Pit and Fissure Cavities (also known as coronal cavities): located on the chewing surface of the tooth. These cavities tend to start in the teen years in the narrow grooves on the chewing surface. They can also develop on the back teeth facing the cheeks. This type of dental decay progresses quickly, and is generally harder to clean effectively. Diligent oral hygiene (brushing and flossing) can prevent this. To protect the back teeth from getting cavities, dental sealants can help.

Root Cavities: these develop on the root surface commonly found in older adults (past middle age) with receding gums, exposing parts of the root without the protection of tooth enamel. This can be caused by limited saliva (which neutralizes bacterial acid), poor cleaning of the teeth and a diet high in sugar.

Cavities accumulate around teeth that have crowns or existing fillings, because those areas are prone to plaque. Also, if you have dry mouth, you are more at risk for tooth decay. This condition is a lack of saliva whether from medications, sickness, radiation or chemotherapy.

As bacteria in your mouth builds, it reacts with sugar and starches in your food producing acids which wear down your tooth. You may not notice you have a cavity until it reaches the inside of the tooth, the pulp, where the nerves are. Fluoride helps tooth enamel heal, but once the cavity spreads into the tooth it will need a filling to drill out the decay and fill the space left behind.

What can you do? Brush with a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss at least twice a day. See your dentist for cleanings and checkups, as tartar (hardened plaque) needs to be removed by your dentist using special tools to scrape it away. And finally, if you don’t have fluoridated water, use a fluoridated toothpaste.

If you have any questions, please give Dr. Carlos A. Tamayo’s dental office a call at 805-483-9567 or to schedule your next appointment!