What Causes Cavities? The Link Between Plaque Bacteria and Tooth Decay

July 27, 2022
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Most oral health issues are preventable, but over 3.5 billion people are still affected by them worldwide. This problem is common in even developed countries. People have high access to sugar and tobacco products but comparatively lower comprehensive dental coverage.

The best way to save time and money on dental health is to stop cavities before they even begin. What causes cavities? How can you prevent them from forming?

This article goes over the answers to these questions and more. Read on to learn about the links between plaque, tooth decay, and cavities.

What Is Plaque Bacteria?

Plaque bacteria is a soft and sticky film that develops on your teeth. It can also accumulate around or under your gums.

This film may be transparent or yellowish and difficult to spot with your eyes. A tell-tale sign of plaque is running your tongue over teeth and feeling the “fuzzy” film.

Plaque develops when mouth bacteria break down sugars and carbohydrates. This process also produces acids.

Your teeth are very strong, but these acids are even stronger. Once plaque starts forming into tartar, your teeth will need professional dental care. 

What Is Tartar?

Tartar is plaque that has been left on your teeth for too long. If it isn’t removed by brushing or dental cleaning, the plaque film hardens and darkens into a layer of tartar. 

This layer is more difficult to remove than regular plaque. You can usually see it more clearly than plaque. It will look like a white, yellow, or brown buildup along your gum line and teeth that doesn’t go away when you brush them.  

Plaque and tartar bacteria can cause bad breath, inflammation, and bleeding gums. The acids they produce can also cause tooth decay.

What Is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is damage to your tooth’s enamel. Your teeth may seem like a solid chunk of bone, but it’s actually made up of tissue layers and nerves.

Tooth enamel is the very hard but thin layer that protects these soft and sensitive tissues. Once tooth enamel is damaged, it cannot grow back.

Tooth decay causes your enamel to become soft and worn down. It’s not always visible to your eyes, especially if it forms between your teeth.

It’s critical for your oral health to guard against tooth decay. Tooth decay causes painful teeth sensitivity issues. Untreated tooth decay will eventually develop into cavities.

What Are Cavities?

Cavities are permanent openings in your tooth enamel that expose the layers underneath. These holes can be very small or very large. They do not heal on their own and will grow bigger if left untreated.

Symptoms of cavities include:

  • Persistent toothaches
  • Sharp tooth pain
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Persistent bad breath

Cavities expose your soft inner tooth to harmful bacteria that become painful as it penetrates deeper. The pain becomes very severe when it exposes your tooth’s nerve endings and roots.

It can also cause a tooth abscess. This is a pus pocket formed around an infected cavity. Large and infected cavities must be treated with root canal surgeries

Symptoms of a tooth abscess include:

  • Intense tooth pain 
  • Headaches and fever
  • Pain spreading into your jaw, ear, and neck
  • Redness and swelling in gums
  • Redness and swelling in the face

Before more advanced medical and dental care, tooth infections were actually a leading cause of death. An untreated abscess creates a prime opportunity for infections to work their way into your bloodstream and cause sepsis.

Even though the risk of tooth-related sepsis is relatively low nowadays, preventing cavities still helps you avoid severe pain, inflammation, and infection. It also costs much less money to prevent cavities than to end up with a costly and invasive surgery to fix them.

The best way to prevent cavities is by lowering their chances to gnaw away at your enamel. This means preventing the common causes of cavities. 

What Causes Cavities?

Cavities are ultimately caused by plaque bacteria. Plaque leads to tartar buildup and/or tooth decay, which becomes cavities once it destroys the tooth enamel.

Preventing cavities is as simple as managing plaque bacteria. There are two main ways to prevent plaque bacteria from taking hold of your teeth:

  • Food and drink habits
  • Oral hygiene habits

Your dental health depends on both these factors. They’re also important to related health issues and your total body health.

What Food Causes Cavities?

You can help fight plaque bacteria by avoiding the foods that give them a boost. You can also add nutrients to your diet that strengthen your teeth.

Food and drinks that are bad for your teeth include:

  • Soft drinks
  • High-sugar drinks (can include juice, sports drinks, sweetened tea, etc.)
  • Desserts like cakes and cookies
  • Candy, especially sticky and chewy candy
  • Starchy chips and bread

Foods good for your teeth include calcium-rich foods, like low-sugar dairy products and leafy vegetables. These foods re-deposit healthy minerals back onto your teeth and strengthen your enamel.

Alcohol and tobacco products are also bad for your teeth. Alcohol is acidic and helps ear tooth enamel down. Tobacco products weaken your teeth and can cause:

  • Bad breath
  • Inflammation
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Oral cancer

Eating right and avoiding sugar, carbs, and alcohol/tobacco will not just help out your teeth. It will also lower your risk of other health-related issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Oral Hygiene: Best Habits

It’s not enough to have a proper tooth-healthy diet. You also need good oral hygiene and regular dental care. This includes regular:

  • Teeth brushing
  • Flossing
  • Added fluoride
  • Dental checkups
  • Dental cleanings
  • X-rays (as needed)

It’s not enough to just swipe at your teeth with some toothpaste. It’s important to brush and floss properly as well.

You may be tempted to scrub plaque off your teeth, but this damages your tooth enamel too. Use soft toothbrushes and your dentist-recommended toothpaste.

No matter how well you brush and floss, you still need professional dental care too. Dental checkups and cleanings find the hard-to-spot and hard-to-reach places where sneaky bacteria like to hide. 

The Bright and Dazzling Smile You Deserve At Prices You Can Afford

Plaque bacteria is what causes cavities to form on your teeth. Healthy eating and habits and good oral hygiene can stop this plaque from damaging your tooth enamel, preventing cavities before they can form. 

Are you looking for top-notch dental care that’s gentle and effective? Your comfort is our highest priority!  Contact us to learn more about our services.

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When we opened in 1997, it was our mission to serve our community with friendly, comfortable, convenient care. Now, we are continually committed to providing our families the very best dental services. With a small-town feel and the very best in technology, we combine personalized service and the most effective treatment possible.