A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Toothpaste and tap water: 2 ways to reverse early cavity damage

Hurt tooth graphic

Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily and drink fluoridated tap water to help build up enamel to reverse cavity damage.

Sweet and sugary foods can leave a mark when it comes to your teeth. It’s the word you dread hearing at the dentist: cavity.

You actually can reverse cavity damage. If you catch a cavity early, you may save yourself a major dent in your dental bill and your mouth.

Acid and bacteria are cavity culprits

According to Dr. Jacob Hamby, a Marshfield Clinic dentist, our teeth are attacked by acid on a day-to-day basis.

“Acid removes important minerals from the enamel and breaks the tooth down,” Hamby said. “However, you can find these minerals in saliva and fluoride, which can help build your teeth back up and reverse the damage on the enamel, or micro cavities.”

Fluoride can be found in most tap water, tooth paste and certain mouth washes.

A number of home remedies such as clove, garlic, salt and licorice supposedly help stop or slow down cavity damage, but none have been proven to show this.

“These remedies may lessen the bacterial load in the mouth,” Hamby said. “They may help alleviate tooth pain, but they don’t necessarily replenish the minerals teeth need to repair micro cavities.”

Dr. Hamby suggests brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and drinking fluoridated tap water to help build up enamel to reverse cavity damage.

Your dentist will use instruments that can perform a deep cleaning where a toothbrush can’t reach and uses products with a higher concentration of fluoride, which helps reverse this damage.

When is the damage no longer reversible?

If the acid damage goes through the enamel and into the dentin, the damage is non-reversible. At that point, you would have to see a dentist to get a filling.

“The patient typically experiences pain or sensitivity at this point,” Dr. Hamby said. “Once the damage reaches the dentin, bacteria and acid can penetrate that level at a quicker rate. The cavity can spread very quickly from a small area to a much larger area requiring a root canal or extraction in a relatively short amount of time.”

To help prevent this, brush and floss your teeth and avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks such as water with lemon. Bacteria feed off sugar, and then turn it into acid, which is the ultimate culprit that breaks down tooth structure and causes cavities. Avoid sweets, acidic foods or drinks and don’t snack frequently throughout the day. This will help lower high levels of sugar and acid attacks on the teeth.

“Once the pH level in the oral cavity reaches 5.5 or below, the cavity process on enamel begins,” Hamby said. “The neutral pH level is 7.0, however many juices, sodas and sports drinks are at a pH around 2.5, which help initiate the cavity process.”

To help prevent cavities in children and babies, make sure they don’t go to bed with a bottle of milk or a sippy cup filled with juice. Instead, use fluoridated water. Ensure children are established with a dental provider before they are one year old.

If you suspect you have a cavity, contact your dentist to schedule an appointment.

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