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The Tooth Decay Process: How to Reverse It and Avoid a Cavity

Information for Adults and Parents of School-Aged Children

You know that a dental cavity is a hole in a tooth. But did you know that it’s the result of the tooth decay, and happens over time? Tooth decay is an epidemic, affecting 15% of all youngsters in America, and nearly 50% of the world’s population. It is linked to heart disease, diabetes and early death.

Cavities are killers!

You can interrupt and reverse this process to avoid cavities!

Here’s how the decay process starts – and how it can be stopped or reversed to keep you or your child from getting cavities.

What’s inside our mouths?

Our mouths are full of bacteria, yeasts, molds, viruses and fungi. Hundreds of different types live on our teeth, gums, tongue and other places in our mouths. Some are helpful, but some are harmful – those that cause the tooth decay process and other illnesses. The worst are called S. mutans, S. salivarius and S. sanguinis. They colonize your teeth and your gums.

You can get rid of many of them – easily, quickly, and efficiently – with the right toothpaste and the right mouthwash, and routine flossing or with special toothpicks with anti-bacterial products.

Tooth decay is the result of an infection with certain types of bacteria that use sugars in food to make acids. Over time, these acids can make a cavity in the tooth.

Why are these microbes dangerous?

There are many very important reasons to keep your mouth healthy.  We evolved with microbes, and are cells are really microbes that work together in specific ways.  Most scientists agree that we have about 37 trillion cells in our body, and additionally from 100 trillion to 30 trillion microbes – in about 10,000 different groups.  That’s a lot of genetic material!  Some microbes are neutral, some are helpful, and some are dangerous.  The dangerous ones can give you heart disease and make you very sick.

healthy-mouthThere is a connection between bacteria in your mouth, and some serious heart diseases.  Keeping your mouth clean is an important part of staying healthy.  After all, the mouth is the principal “route of entry” for dangerous microbes that can cause serious heart, lung, and intestinal illnesses.

What goes on inside our mouths all day?

Throughout the day, a tug of war takes place inside our mouths.

saliva-iodine

On one team are dental plaque—a sticky, colorless film of bacteria—plus foods and drinks that contain sugar or starch (such as milk, bread, cookies, candy, soda, juice, and many others). Whenever we eat or drink something that contains sugar or certain types of starch from cookies, crackers & “white flour junk foods,” the bacteria use them to produce acids. Acids eat away at the tooth’s enamel.

On the other team are the minerals in our saliva (such as iodine compounds, calcium and phosphate) plus fluoride or iodine from toothpaste, water, and other sources. This team helps enamel repair itself by replacing minerals lost during an “acid attack.” Scientists have recently discovered that iodine is more important than fluoride in discouraging dental cavities.

salivary-glands
Major Salivary Glands

It’s also useful for replacing the minerals in our teeth. The salivary glands in your mouth (there are several thousand of them – little ones – in addition to 3 large salivary gland) constantly bathe your teeth in mineral-rebuilding substances, while the iodine in your saliva kills harmful bacteria. In fact, your salivary glands are the 2nd largest repository of iodine in the body, after the thyroid gland.

Our teeth go through this natural process of losing minerals and regaining minerals all day long.

How does a cavity develop?

When teeth are exposed to acid if you eat or drink sugar and starches – the cycles of acid attacks cause the enamel to continue to lose minerals. A white spot may appear where minerals have been lost. This is a sign of early decay.

Tooth decay can be stopped or reversed at this point. Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva, and with help from the iodine in your saliva as well. Fluoride from toothpaste or other sources help, but not as much as iodine.

If the tooth decay process continues, more minerals are lost. Over time, the enamel is weakened and destroyed, forming a cavity. A cavity is permanent damage that a dentist has to repair with a filling.

How can we help teeth win the tug of war and avoid a cavity?

Use iodine and iodized toothpaste

Iodine is a mineral that can prevent tooth decay from progressing. It can even reverse, or stop, early tooth decay. You can get iodine from iodized salt.

Iodine, even more than fluoride, works to protect teeth. It . . .

  • prevents mineral loss in tooth enamel
  • replaces lost minerals
  • kills acid-producing bacteria

You can get iodine by:

  • Using iodized salt and eating foods which contain iodine
  • You get fluoride from drinking fluoridated water from a community water supply
  • Brushing with an iodine-enhanced toothpaste (you can order some HERE)

If the dentist thinks your child needs more iodine or fluoride, he or she may—

  • Apply a fluoride gel or varnish to tooth surfaces
  • Prescribe an iodine supplement (you can order iodine supplement liquid HERE)
  • Recommend an iodine mouth rinse

About Bottled Water – Most bottled water does not contain enough iodine or fluoride to prevent tooth decay. If you drink only bottled water, talk with a dentist or doctor about whether your child needs additional iodine or fluoride.

Keep an eye on how often you and your child eat, as well as what you eat.

A good diet prevents a cavity. Remember, every time you eat or drink something that contains sugar or simple starches, bacteria use the sugar and starch to produce acids. These acids eat away at the tooth’s enamel.

The iodine in our saliva can help fight off this acid attack. But if we eat frequently throughout the day – especially foods and drinks containing sugar and simple starches – the repeated acid attacks win the tug of war, cause teeth to lose minerals and develop a cavity.

That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on how often you eat as well as what you eat.

Tooth-friendly tips:

  • Limit between-meal snacks. This reduces the number of acid attacks on teeth and gives teeth a chance to repair themselves.
  • Avoid candy, cookies, soda, and other sugary drinks.
  • Limit fruit juice. A little goes a long way. Eat fresh fruits, not fruit juices.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything with sugar in it, and especially not after bedtime tooth brushing. Saliva flow decreases during sleep. Without enough saliva, teeth can’t repair themselves after an acid attack.

Make sure you brush and floss. You can purchase iodized peppermint dental floss HERE.

Brushing with iodized toothpaste is important for preventing cavities.

Here’s what you should know about brushing:

  1. Brush two times per day. Set a good example!
  2. Supervise young children when they brush.
  3. For children aged 2 to 6, put the iodized toothpaste on the brush. Use only a pea-sized amount of iodized toothpaste.

  • Spit out the toothpaste after brushing.
  • Children sometimes swallow the toothpaste on their brush. It’s not a good idea. If you use a fluoride toothpaste, their permanent teeth can develop white flecks called dental fluorosis. Iodized toothpaste prevents this.
  • Help your child brush. Brush your child’s teeth first, then let her finish.

Talk to a dentist about sealants

Dental sealants are another good way to help avoid a cavity. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, or molars. Sealants cover uneven surfaces and can prevent food and bacteria from getting trapped there.

Since most cavities in children and adolescents develop in the molars (the back teeth), it’s best to get these teeth sealed as soon as they come in:

  • The first permanent molars – called “6 year molars” – come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
  • The second permanent molars – “12 year molars” – come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.

Go to the dentist for regular check-ups

Visit a dentist regularly for cleanings and an examination. During the visit the dentist or hygienist will:

  • Remove dental plaque
  • Check for any areas of early tooth decay
  • Show you and your child how to thoroughly clean the teeth
  • Apply a gel or varnish, if necessary
  • Schedule your next regular check-up