What is a Dental Cavity and How to Prevent Adult Cavities


Hi, I’m Dr. Derrick Johnson and I wanted to answer a patient question I had this week. And fairly … it seems like a simple question, but what is a dental cavity. It’s a very common thing we see in dentistry, but what causes these cavities? Again, I’m gonna use this program. It’s called Consult-PRO, but it has very good demonstration. This shows the basic anatomy of a tooth and we’re looking at … there’s three layers of the tooth. There’s the hard outer layer. This is like the protective armor of the tooth, and this is the hardest structure in your body. It’s much harder than bone.

Inside that, is the layer called dentin. This dentin is 10 times softer than the enamel, and that’s gonna be important when we talk about how a cavity progresses through a tooth. Inside the tooth, this is the pulp. A tooth, a healthy tooth, is a living part of your body so it has a nerve and a blood supply.

What is a Dental Cavity?

A cavity is basically an acid attack on that tooth. Where do these acids come from? Combination of three things. We have the food we eat, bacteria that gets in the mouth, and saliva and it forms a sticky film. You’ve probably heard the term plaque. Plaque is this sticky film filled with bacteria. The by-product of that bacteria is lactic acid, and when there’s enough of that plaque on the tooth and it’s sitting there long enough, that acid becomes very corrosive and destructive.

Let’s take a look at how that works. The very common place to get a cavity is in the top of that tooth. I’m gonna play this, and we’re gonna see a cavity starting to work its way through there. Now, this part, it takes a while for that to happen because remember we said this enamel is the hardest structure of your body. Look what happens when it gets into the dentin. This softer area. All of sudden, … it starts to really expand out pretty quickly. As it goes down, it can actually get in and destroy the nerve of the tooth.

Consequences of not treating a cavity.

The point here is the sooner that we can correct this, the easier it is. Because this goes from a very easy problem to correct. Now we’re getting … the nerve is at risk and we’re gonna see as this progresses, it’s actually going to go and affect the nerve, ultimately destroying the nerve of the tooth. That infection goes all the way down through the tooth into the jawbone, and guess what? Into your body. So now there’s channel in and now the tooth has broken down. That is the progression of the breakdown of the tooth, because of a cavity.

The other thing that’s important to know, sometimes this whole process can happen without any pain. Sometimes, there is a toothache. Sometimes there is sensitivity. Sometimes not. What can we do to prevent that? The biggest thing, let’s get back to the cause, is plaque and the acids in the mouth. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is they’ll brush their teeth, but they’re not effectively removing that plaque because that plaque can go in some tricky areas.

How to Prevent Adult Dental Cavities?

All right, so we’ve talked about what a cavity is. Now let’s talk about how to prevent it. We get back to this concept of plaque. Plaque is an acid, and if we have an acid, imagine a corrosive acid sits on anything long enough, it’s going to eat a hole through it, right? We got to get rid of these assets, which it’s actually quite simple to do, but most people don’t do it effectively. I see so many people that sincerely brush their teeth two or three times a day, and they’re still getting into this kind of problem.

The reason is, it’s a technique thing. Actually, you’re better … You could spend five minutes a day, but if you use the right technique, that’s better than brushing three times a day, doing it the wrong way. I often think of the analogy of, imagine a beautiful house and a beautiful lawn. You mowed the lawn every week during the summer, but you never did any weeding or trimming. Your house would look a mess, because there’d be weeds all over the place and it would look out of control. It’s the same thing with the mouth. It’s actually all in the details of, how do you get the little corners and details? And when you spend the time there, that’s what makes the difference.

I want to show you this little diagram of how the plaque forms. Where does it go on the teeth? The main place that it goes is right at the gum line, and actually, these big surfaces of the teeth are self-cleansing. Your body’s saliva actually naturally claims those areas. Plaque doesn’t tend to accumulate there, but if you watched most people brush, they’ll spend all their time brushing these areas that really are already clean.

The areas that need attention are the gum line, and in between the teeth. You can see, this is the progression. Here’s a healthy tooth. Here’s plaque starting to form. The plaque gets more mature, and it starts to cover the tooth in that way. It’s also getting in between the teeth. There’s a technique that we can use, if this is where you focus. When I brush my teeth, I’m focusing on where the gum and the tooth meet. That’s the area that I want to keep clean.

How to Brush With an Electric Toothbrush Properly?

I just wanted to show you with a … Here’s an electric brush, which electric brushes are really worth the money if you’re using them the right way. I take that brush and I hold it at about a 45 degree angle, and I brush the gum line. Just go through and imagine brushing the interface between the gum and the tooth. And then when you floss, and flossing is important. A lot of people I know are not too thrilled about having to floss, but what you’re doing is you’re going in there, and you get in between the teeth, wrap around each tooth, and pull that out, and you’re sweeping away that plaque, so it can’t mature and do damage in there.

That, coupled with … Every time we eat, we kind of get an acid attack. The acids build up when we take in sugars. So brushing after you eat, or even just rinsing with water after you eat are all really good ideas, because we want to turn the mouth into this chemically neutral environment versus this acidic environment. An acidic mouth is going to be a diseased mouth. You have so much control of which type of environment you have in your mouth through some oral hygiene things.

Anyway, I hope that was helpful. I don’t want to get too long-winded on this short video, but if you have any more questions or you feel like this cavity situation is out of control and you need some help, that’s what we’re here for; to answer your questions and help you in any way we can, so you can visit us. Find out more at IntegratedDentistry.com.

Your safety is our top priority…

Which is why we are proud to be a mercury-free mercury-safe dental practice. Meaning we will never place any mercury-containing fillings and can remove any defective mercury filling safely if you develop a cavity.

Virtual Dental Consult Arkansas


1101 NE McClain Rd. Bentonville, AR 72712 | 114 Dyer Street, Mountain Home, AR 72653 Bentonville (479) 250-4473 • Mountain Home (870) 580-0950