Can Cavities Be Healed?
This is a pretty hot topic on the internet, and I think I've heard every claim that's out there by now. That said, I do sometimes get surprised at what people come up with, even now.
Often, the claims are really "out there" and can actually cause a lot of damage to whoever listens to them. As a dental health professional, I felt it was my duty to inform anyone who will listen as to the actual facts.
I've found that a lot of people on the internet insist that they know more than dental health professionals on dental health topics. Sometimes, it makes me shake my head, but more often, it makes me a little mad. People's lifespans are potentially affected by their dental health decisions, and it irks me to find so much disinformation out there.
While I can understand that many people don't necessarily trust dental professionals, that does not mean that they don't have insights that can be very useful. Case in point: reversing and healing cavities.
Not all of the claims are unfounded, as indeed some cavities can be reversed. However, there are stipulations as to what can and cannot be healed, as outlined below.
What Are Cavities, Anyway?
Cavities are parts of the tooth that have become compromised. Plaque-forming bacteria sit on the teeth until they become disrupted by brushing and flossing. These bacteria eat fermentable sugars and release lactic acid and toxins into the surrounding tissues. If the colonies aren't disrupted and disturbed often, the lactic acid begins to eat away at the enamel of the teeth.
Even though enamel is the strongest substance in the body, a constant assault of lactic acid eventually wears it down. The minerals that constitute the enamel begin to break down and deteriorate (called tooth decay), leaving a hole in the tooth. This hole that remains is called a cavity.
To speak to some of the science behind teeth, you need to know a few basics first. The teeth are composed of calcium hydroxyapatite minerals. These minerals are a crystalized form of calcium phosphate. The further you go into the tooth structure, the less mineralized the layers become. Hence, the deeper you go into the tooth structure, the softer and more prone to acid attacks it is.
Layers of the Tooth
- Enamel: Forms the outer layer around the crown of the tooth (the part of the tooth you can see.)
- Dentin: Forms the layer beneath the enamel of the crown and the layer beneath the cementum on the root. Roots don't have enamel, but instead have cementum covering the dentin. This is why the roots of teeth, when exposed, are much more prone to cavities.
- Cementum: Forms the outer layer around the root/s of the teeth.
- Pulp: This is the living part of the tooth, composed of blood vessels and nerves.
Enamel: 96% mineral content
Dentin: 70% mineral content
Cementum: 45% mineral content
Pulp: 0% mineral content
Can You Really Cure Cavities?
Have you ever been to the dentist and s/he says to put a "watch" on a tooth? This is a very common practice when dentists are watching to see if a tooth will remineralize. At your next appointment they will check that tooth again to see if it's healed (remineralized) or if it needs a filling.
- Cavities can be healed, but only in the beginning stages of decay
- There are different phases in cavity formation
- The cavity can only heal when the decay has not yet reached the dentin
Did You Know Cavities Are Curable?
The beginning stage of decay is called a white spot lesion in dental terms. This is when a "watch" is placed on the tooth to see if the tooth will heal or continue to decay. Once the decay passes through the enamel to the dentin layer below, it quickly dissolves the minerals and makes its way into the interior of the tooth. Again, this is because each layer of tooth is less mineralized than the one on top of it.
Once the decay has reached the dentin, it can no longer be reversed or healed. The minerals cannot be restored due to the huge amount of structural damage to the tooth. Here's an analogy: Jenga is a game featuring a tall tower of wooden blocks all balanced together. You can remove some blocks and the tower still stands, but eventually the structure is no longer sound. At this point the entire tower rapidly topples down. Much like Jenga, teeth can only take so much structural damage before they begin to completely crumble.
The only chance you have in curing your cavity is to ensure you catch it in the early stages of development (when it is still a white spot lesion) and take action to reverse the decay process.
How Do You Reverse & Prevent Cavities?
Minerals are key to tooth structure, and therefore also key to restoring a tooth after its structure has begun to break down. Here are a few definitions that you'll need to know in order to follow the next section.
- Mineral: is a solid, inorganic crystal that occurs in nature naturally
- Mineralization: is the introduction of inorganic minerals to an organic structure
- Demineralization: is a process by which the mineral content of a mineralized structure is removed
- Remineralization: is a process by which mineralized structure is restored to a demineralized one
Since the enamel is made up of 96% mineral content, when some of that content has been removed (a white spot lesion has formed), that content needs to be restored to the tooth to make it whole again. This is actually fairly simple, and often has positive results.
The key is to keep your teeth and gums free from plaque bacteria while, at the same, time re-introducing minerals to the enamel of the teeth to rebuild them.
How to Restore Minerals to Your Teeth
- A major job of your saliva is to naturally remineralize the teeth. Try to wait at least 2-3 hours between snacks, non-water beverages, and foods to allow your saliva to work. It raises the pH in your mouth with natural buffering action, in addition to restoring necessary minerals to the surfaces of the teeth
- Make sure you're eating enough vegetables and fruits that contain calcium and phosphates. These are the minerals that can cure cavities and restore enamel tooth structure. Eat more beans, dark green leafy vegetables, potatoes, mushrooms, bananas, and avocados
- Use xylitol products (at least 6-10g/daily) to help increase the salivation rate and restore minerals to the teeth. Xylitol is vegan-friendly and is naturally found in birch trees. It's also 5-6 times better than fluoride at preventing cavities in the first place
- Add minerals to your teeth directly by using a toothpaste that's specifically for remineralizing the teeth. These can be found in almost any dental aisle or online. Just look for the word "remineralizing"
- Use products that include Recaldent, also known as CPP (casein phosphopeptide.) Recaldent is a remineralizing agent proven to help reverse early decay. However, it contains casein (a milk derivative) which is not vegan-friendly
Brush at least twice a day and floss once daily. Make regular visits to your dentist to ensure cavities are caught early while you can still cure them!
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© 2015 Kate P