2525 W 16th St., Suite A, Greeley, CO 80634 (970) 352-2344

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Common Dental Questions

What are tooth cavities or tooth decay?

Bacteria + Sugar = Acid, and Acid dissolves your tooth!

  1. Bacteria (AKA: plaque, germs) are alive in your mouth
  2. This bacteria processes the sugar that you eat and drink and uses it as fuel to make more bacteria and form bacteria colonies
  3. After bacteria has processed the sugar, the bacteria secrete acid onto your teeth for about 20 minutes
  4. Our saliva neutralizes small amounts of acid. If bacteria produce too much acid for too long, it slowly dissolves the outermost tooth layer – enamel
  5. Eventually, the acid dissolves through the enamel to the dentin, and a cavity forms as the tooth decays
  6. Once the cavity reaches the dentin layer underneath the enamel, it can’t be stopped but may not actually be painful yet
  7. This is why we drill out the decayed tooth structure and place a filling in that space before it gets worse
  8. If a cavity continues to form without being treated early, it eventually reaches the pulp and may require more treatment like a crown or root canal.

The first line of defense against a cavity is brushing and flossing (to remove bacteria) and limiting how often you have sugar (so the bacteria can’t make acid).

The second line of defense is typically a filling, but a deep cavity may require a crown and a root canal to clean out all of the bacteria.

What is gum disease (gingivitis) and bone disease (periodontitis)?

  1. Bacteria (AKA: plaque, germs) are alive in your mouth
  2. This bacteria processes the sugar that you eat and drink and uses it as fuel to make more bacteria and form bacteria colonies
  3. Your body tries to kill this bacteria and it uses your natural blood vessels to send your immune system fighters to kill off the bacteria
  4. As your blood vessels fill up with these extra cells, the gums become red and swollen and can bleed very easily (gingivitis) – this can be reversed with good hygiene
  5. If you don’t clean this bacteria out yourself, then it will start to invade deep into the gum tissue and eventually reach the bone around the tooth.
  6. The bacteria then form a hard structure on the tooth called tarter, or calculus, that is impossible to remove at home
  7. As the bacteria invades deeper and deeper, it erodes the bone away and becomes even harder to clean out (periodontitis)
  8. In order to remove the bacteria and prevent further destruction, periodontal therapy is advised

How can I prevent dental problems?

Good news! You are in control of your dental destiny.

If you’ve already read our articles on cavitiesand gum and bone disease you know that dental problems are caused by two things:

Bacteria and Sugar

The goal of any good at home regiment is to remove bacteria and limit sugar as much as possible.

  • Flossing – This cleans out bacteria living between the teeth. Wrap the floss in the shape of a “C” around your teeth and scrub up and down on the side of the tooth, being careful not to shove the floss aggressively into your gums. When you’re done, slide your fingers across the floss so you put a new, clean piece into the next gap. You may use 1 foot or more of floss each time!
  • Brushing – Along with flossing, brushing helps remove the bacteria in your mouth. Brush your teeth for 2 minutes, twice per day.
    • Set a timer for 2 minutes
    • Watch yourself brush in the mirror to make sure you get all surfaces of all your teeth
    • Don’t do other things when you brush, just focus on cleaning your mouth completely until your teeth are nice and smooth!
  • Limit Time Exposure to Sugar – Bacteria can only make acid for about 20 minutes after you consume sugar. You should focus on limiting how often you consume sugar in a day! If you consume sugar for 3 hours, that is far worse for your teeth than consuming sugar for 1 hour. Check the Nutrition Facts label on the foods you eat!
    • Common sources of sugar:
      • Soda, energy drinks, sweet tea
      • Mints and candy
      • Coffee (only if you add sugar!)
      • Processed snack foods
      • Bread and other grains, as well as fruit, also contain a type of sugar… so be careful snacking on those, too!
  • Fluoride Fluoride is in lots of dental products including toothpaste and some mouthwashes. Fluoride helps repair enamel and can slow down and potentially stop a cavity as long as it hasn’t broken through the enamel (see #4, #5 and #6 at the top of this page, we can stop a cavity in the #4 stage!). Fluoride only works when bacterial acid production is low, so sugar and bacteria must be under control for fluoride to be effective. If you want, you can add a fluoride mouthwash after you floss and brush before you go to bed at night.

Is Fluoride safe?

Despite recent concerns about fluoride, the scientific community has established fluoride as a very safe and effective way of reducing tooth decay.

Here’s how:

Fluoride comes from the natural element fluorine and is always found in nature combined with other elements as a fluoride compound.

In dentistry, fluoride has two ways to protect teeth.

First, when we are young and teeth are developing, it can be ingested into the body and help strengthen the developing tooth structure.

Second, once our teeth are erupted into the mouth fluoride from water, toothpaste, or dental treatments help strengthen the outer layer of the tooth.

Fluoride works by combining with the calcium and phosphorus that is naturally in your saliva and can penetrate the tooth enamel (the outside layer of the tooth) and actually reharden the surface, making the tooth more resistant to acid.

Keep in mind that if your teeth are coated in bacteria, or you are consuming large amounts of sugar, fluoride cannot effectively do its job.

For more information on how to remove bacteria and sugar from your mouth, see our article on how can I prevent dental problems.

Are dental X-rays safe?

Dental x-rays are very safe, even for pregnant women.

Dental x-rays use a micro-dose of radiation to penetrate the structures of your mouth to give us a picture of what lies below the surface.

A typical dental x-ray produces about 0.005 mSv of radiation – the same amount of radiation you receive during a 1-hour airplane flight.

For comparison, the typical person is exposed to about 3.0 mSv of radiation per year just going about their normal daily life.

So the good news is that dental x-rays only expose you to an extremely tiny fraction of the radiation that is naturally emitted from the sun and the earth around us.

Despite this low radiation dose, we still take precautions to limit radiation exposure by placing a lead apron over the rest of your body so that radiation is only applied to the area we are trying to see.

For pregnant women: https://www.ada.org/member-center/oral-health-topics/pregnancy

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