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Dental Cavities: A Common Chronic Disease in the US

Dental cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. It is the process where bacteria in your mouth use refined carbohydrates (particularly sucrose) and produce acid (primarily lactic acid). The acid erodes tooth structure creating cavities. If the cavity becomes deep enough to cause inflammation of your dental pulp, the result is pain, possible abscess, and the need for expensive dental treatment to save the tooth or loss of the tooth.


For children, dental cavities are associated with an increased number of missed school days, decreased ability to learn, and diminished oral-health-related quality of life.


Older models of caries management stressed drilling and filling—but we now recognize that placing fillings in teeth does not always stop the overall disease process. So we are now placing an emphasis on preventing cavities from developing in the first place.


How do we prevent cavities from developing?

  • Mechanical tooth cleaning with toothbrush and floss.
  • Fluoride: Studies have shown that fluoride in toothpastes and drinking water has reduced dental cavities by approximately 50%. Fluoride is also available in chewable tablets (prescription) and rinses (both prescription and over-the-counter). Dental offices can also do topical applications of fluoride (liquids, gels, foams, or varnishes)—these contain a higher concentration of fluoride than what you can buy in the store to use on a daily basis.


Fluoride is not as effective at preventing cavities in the pits and grooves of back teeth as it is on other tooth surfaces. This is why sealants are recommended for back teeth that have many grooves on their chewing surface.


The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry offers the following tips to reduce cavities:


  • Avoid frequent consumption of sugary foods and liquids
  • Begin oral hygiene measures, including toothbrushing, starting when the first tooth comes into your child’s mouth
  • Establish a “dental home” before your child’s first birthday and have a caries risk assessment as well as getting parental education. (Some general dentists will do this and others will want young children to see a Pediatric Dental Specialist.)


Note: The information in this article is not meant to replace the clinical judgment of your healthcare professionals.


Jennifer G. Robb, DMD is a general dentist who sees both adults and children.

1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd. W

Lorain, OH 44053