It’s never good to hear you have a cavity at the dentist’s office -- in fact, most people dread it. Cavities usually result in having a filling put in, which results in a bigger dental bill and a longer visit. Although the filling will save your tooth, there are ways you can prevent or reverse the cavity process yourself -- saving both you and your dentist time.

Cavities are the direct result of the gradual tooth decaying process. Notice the word “gradual,” meaning that if you catch it early on, the process can be stopped or erased.

In this post, we will discuss:

  • What goes on inside our mouths?
  • How does a cavity develop?
  • How can we prevent and reverse tooth decay?

And when is it absolutely necessary for dental assistance.

What Happens Inside Our Mouths?

Inside our mouths, there are hundreds of various bacteria that live on the teeth, gums, and tongue. Many of these bacteria are natural and a part of being healthy, but some are harmful and can play a major role in tooth decay.

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, tooth decay is defined as “the result of an infection with certain types of bacteria that use sugars in food to make acids.”

Over time, these acids build up and are responsible for cavities in our teeth.  

Tug of War Between Bacteria and Sugars Versus Saliva and Fluoride
The harmful bacteria and sugars in our mouth are challenged by saliva and fluoride. Image courtesy of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

There are ways that our bodies naturally fight against these bacterias and sugars. Our saliva and the fluoride from toothpaste, water, and other sources act as an armor to protect against the dental plaque -- a sticky film of bacteria and sugar. The minerals in our saliva and fluoride helps repair the enamel that the bacteria’s acid erodes.

How Does a Cavity Develop?

A cavity is a little hole in your tooth caused by the destruction of enamel -- a hard, outer layer of your teeth. When you eat or drink foods and beverages containing sugars, acids are produced within the plaque that target your enamel -- overtime withering it to nothing and creating the hole we know as a cavity.

Typically, cavities are more common in children, teens, and older adults, but really anyone can become a victim. Adults are more likely to get cavities when their gums shrink away from the teeth -- recession -- or if they have gum disease. Cavities are quite common in older adults because they were not exposed to the same levels of fluoride that we have now in their early years.

A diagram of a tooth's roots and different types of cavities.
Cavities come in many different shapes and sizes. Image courtesy of Tay Dental Surgery.

How Can We Prevent and Reverse Tooth Decay?

Don’t give up yet! -- here are some easy ways that you can either prevent or reverse the destructive effects of tooth decay.

Change Up Your Diet

Evidence supports that a simple diet switch can actually reverse the tooth decay process.

Start by consuming foods that are rich in calcium (greens and dairy) because they will help strengthen your teeth, giving the enamel a head-start. Once you have that down, avoid sugary foods and drinks like pop, juice, and candy in order to dodge excessive plaque build-up.

Here are several other dietary tips for reversing cavities:

  • Add vitamins and supplements to your diet in order to aid the production of bacteria-fighting saliva and keep inflammation to a minimum.
  • Eat foods with natural probiotics to offset the acidic pH in bacteria between the teeth (kombucha, kefir, and other fermented foods are rich in probiotics).
  • Be aware of the pH values in food/drinks (drinks like coffee can imbalance pH levels and create the perfect home for harmful bacteria).

Step-Up Your Oral Care Routine

Are you doing enough to take care of your teeth? You should be doing these steps daily in order to keep up with what is recommended for preventing cavities:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day, making sure you reach all surfaces, pockets, crevices, and corners.
  • Floss at least once a day in order to remove any remaining food and to stop bacteria growth in your gums
  • Use mouthwash -- the antibacterial formula helps to kill leftover bacteria.
A woman in a gray tank top rinses with blue mouthwash.
It is recommended to use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for children and no mouthwash. Image courtesy of Cloverdale Crossing Dental Group.

A more eccentric technique you can add to your routine is oil pulling -- rinsing with an oil (coconut, sesame, or sunflower) for about 10-20 minutes in order to reduce plaque build-up. Do not swallow the oil and brush your teeth afterward. This method has been credited with reducing both plaque and gingivitis within one month.

Fluoride is Your Friend

Fluoride is a mineral in our bones and teeth that is universally recognized for preventing cavities. When you intake fluoride, it replaces the minerals lost from tooth decay and reduces the bacteria’s ability to make acid.

Fluoride is found in most city water supplies, toothpaste, and mouthwashes. You can increase your fluoride amounts by taking supplements, using mouth rinses, or applying a fluoride gel to the teeth.

Sealants Work Great for Kids

Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are painted onto the molars (must be done professionally). These can prevent cavities by smoothing the bumps and ridges on the back of our teeth where food and bacteria are collected and most times trapped.

Most cavities in children and teens form in the molars, so they are typically sealed between the ages of five and seven (baby teeth) and a second time between 11 and 14 years old (permanent teeth).

Visit the Dentist Regularly

One of the best ways to prevent and repair cavities is to make sure you visit your dentist for annual teeth cleanings. Your dental hygienist will remove dental plaque, check for tooth decay, and apply a fluoride gel or varnish if necessary. You’ll make their job a lot easier by following the previous steps, but there is no replacement for a professional cleaning.

When is it Too Late?

Disappointingly, a cavity may reach a point where it is no longer reversible.

This occurs when the acid from bacteria eats through the enamel in the dentin (your tooth’s living tissue). The cavity is capable of growing much larger during this period -- if it grows too large you may require a root canal or extraction.

At this point, you would experience pain or sensitivity in the tooth -- acting as a sign that you need that filling.


A woman presses on her cheek due to tooth pain.
Fillings can cost around $200 on average. Image courtesy of Canarsie Courier.

Use these tips and tricks in order to save your teeth from tooth decay and prevent the need for fillings. But remember, not all cavities can be reversed -- it’s always best to see your dentist if you are experiencing pain or discomfort in order to ensure your oral health.