Continuing Our Look at the Causes of Cavities

Wilsonville Dentist

Let’s continue the discussion on decay we started last month as our Wilsonville dentist reviews the factors that play a role in getting cavities and preventing cavities. In our last post, Dr. Gates discussed bacteria and diet as two very important factors in decay. Now, let’s look at the role hygiene, saliva and additional protective factors play in the formation of cavities.


As you hear me say all the time, oral hygiene plays just as important role in preventing cavities as it does in maintaining any fillings, crowns or dental work in your mouth. Good oral hygiene includes flossing daily, brushing morning and night, and – depending on your personal preference – maybe some additional steps such as mouthwash, fluoride rinse, proxy brushes, water pick.

Good hygiene aids in removing food debris and harmful plaque that feeds and houses the bacteria that creates the cavity forming acids.

I want to touch a bit more on flossing as there was recent controversy in the media concerning whether the habit really makes a difference. We brush our teeth to remove cavity forming materials and bacteria that collect throughout the day, right?

So how do you remove the materials in-between and at the corners of our teeth? Simple – by flossing.

Teeth are not flat. They have some of the most amazing anatomy, and if you are not flossing you are simply not cleaning the side of your tooth.

Finally, with hygiene it is not uncommon to be asked about the benefits of using electric toothbrushes. Research clearly shows improved plaque removal using an electric toothbrush over-hand brushing.  So, yes, I strongly recommended an electric toothbrush.  I have both Sonicare and Oral B/Braun electric toothbrushes at home for me and my family. I happen to enjoy using both.


Saliva acts as one of our natural defenses against acids in the mouth. Our saliva contains minerals in it that both buffer the pH level of our mouth and aid in surface remineralization/maintenance of the crystalline structure of our tooth enamel.

Calcium and phosphates found in saliva move in and out of the hydroxyapatite – or crystalline structure of our tooth surface – aiding in both pH buffering and overall surface tooth strength.

A reduction in saliva can be detrimental to teeth and contribute to the formation of cavities. As we age, we see often a natural reduction in our saliva. However, one very common issue we see more of today happens to be what we call medication induced saliva reduction.

Certain medications are known to reduce saliva flow, and sometimes multiple medications combined together seem to have the same affect.  If you have this issue, make sure you remain aware or mouth dryness and keep your mouth moist by drinking more water, and using special mouth rinses, lozenges or gel drops (not containing sugar).  Hygiene becomes more important for you to lower your risk of decay.

Make sure you discuss this with your our team if you think dry mouth is a persistent problem during your next appointment.


Finally, I want to discuss the role of topical fluoride in preventing and slowing cavities. Fluoride is a natural element in our environment that humans have been exposed to for centuries.

In the oral cavity, fluoride has two major effects on cavity reduction. First, topical fluoride when rinsed or brushed on onto the surface of our teeth will incorporate into the very surface of our enamel in a very similar fashion as the calcium and phosphate I discussed earlier does.  In doing so it changes the hydroxyapatite crystalline structure to what is called fluoroapitite.

This change makes the surface of the tooth temporarily more resistant to acids.  We recommend the use fluoride toothpaste and rinses on a regular basis in our hygiene routines for this reason.

Additionally, when fluoride comes into contact with a certain enzyme needed for the creation of bacterial acid it prevents the enzyme from working. Therefore, fluoride reduces the production of harmful acids created by bacteria. So with regular use of topical fluoride products you can increase the protection your teeth need against cavity formation.


So now that we’ve taken a brief glimpse into cavities and factors involved in increasing and preventing them; remember there is more involved than just a simple “brush more” or “eat less candy.”  We hope you have enjoyed our discussion, and invite you back to our blog for the next time our Wilsonville dentist reviews how to improve your oral health.!  Dr. Gates always love to discuss what our team at Gates Family Dentistry can do to help each of you succeed in a healthy mouth!

Until next time.

– Dr. Denise Gates