Cavities – also called tooth decay – are one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States.
By age 34, 80% of Americans will have had at least one cavity. A cavity occurs when tooth enamel breaks down due to the acid made by the bacteria that collects on teeth. Bacteria on your teeth produce more acid when you eat and drink foods high in sugar and carbohydrates. If a cavity is left untreated, it can lead to problems with eating, drinking and speaking – and can cause a severe infection underneath your gums.
While cavities are common, they are also largely preventable. Maintaining good oral hygiene and care can help prevent costly emergency dental visits. Experts estimate more than $45 billion is lost in productivity each year due to dental disease. Here are the top five myths about cavities:
MYTH #1: Cavities are only caused by pop and candy.
FACT: While foods loaded with sugar like soda (pop) and candy can lead to tooth decay, they aren’t the only culprits. Drinks and foods that are high in acid – even sugar-free sodas – can destroy the enamel on your teeth and can lead to tooth decay. Snacking and drinking drinks sweetened with sugar or high in acid during the day can also lead to tooth decay, as it leads to the buildup of bacteria and acids on your teeth.
MYTH #2: If my teeth start hurting, I’ll know I have a cavity.
FACT: Cavities can often start growing without causing any pain or symptoms. As the cavity grows larger, you will likely feel pain and become sensitive to hot and cold. Early signs of a cavity include discoloration and pits. Regularly visiting a dentist is important so professionals can monitor your teeth for early signs of decay that you may not notice.
MYTH #3: Gum is bad for my teeth.
FACT: Sugar-free gum can protect your teeth and help your mouth make more saliva – which washes away bacteria and acids from your mouth. Bacteria and acids both contribute to tooth decay. If your gum has sugar, it can lead to cavities.
MYTH #4: I brush my teeth, so I don’t have to worry about cavities.
FACT: While tooth brushing is an important step, it’s not enough to keep your teeth healthy. Flossing every day is important to loosen up any food stuck between your teeth that the brush can’t reach. Avoiding foods and drinks high in sugar and acid is also necessary to keep sugar from coating your teeth.
MYTH #5: I filled my cavity, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
FACT: Your teeth still need regular care even after your cavity is filled. Fillings can crack or break down, and bacteria can collect around them. Without switching to diet lower in sugar and acidic foods, a filled tooth can decay more. A regimen of brushing and flossing is also important to prevent further decay.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s role
Practicing good oral hygiene is vital to keeping your mouth healthy. Brushing your teeth twice every day, flossing daily and using a toothpaste with fluoride are all a part of that routine – as is visiting a dentist for an annual cleaning. But for some individuals, there may be barriers to oral health – like a lack of access to fluoridated drinking water or a shortage of dentists. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, some organizations have formed to remove barriers.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation has made efforts to fund clinics and efforts to help bring dental care to children and adults in the U.P., like the U.P. Wide Smiles Initiative and the Hannahville Dental Clinic. The earlier children receive dental care, the better their prospects are for long-term oral health. This content has been reviewed and approved by Lisa L. Knowles, D.D.S., Associate Dental Consultant and Dental Director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. This article is the tenth in a year-long series explaining how to manage chronic conditions that can be costly for families and the health care system. For more information about the series, click here.
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