Our Bodies are amazing, versatile, complicated, and tougher than they look. Between your teeth, muscles, skin, cartilage, and bones, your vital organs are surrounded by a structural force field that doubles as an engineering phenomenon.
So what’s the hardest substance in your body? You might be surprised by the answer, the most durable and toughest substance in your body is actually a tissue. The only part of our skeleton that we actually clean.
The part of your teeth that we see when we smile helps you chew, bite, and tear your food. So what is the hardest substance in the human body, is your tooth enamel?
Fun fact: bones are considered to be stronger than concrete. The jawbone and the femur are considered the strongest bones in your body.
Bone is made of living tissue. Collagen and a mineral called calcium phosphate make up most of your bone structure.
Enamel is 96% densely packed minerals, teeth are more mineral than any other tissue your body creates. This makes enamel the perfect protector for your teeth, whether you’re chewing, grinding or drinking a beverage.
Like the rest of our bodies, tooth enamel is very complex. The truth, however, is that our teeth were actually designed to heal themselves—which explains how it’s possible to have the same set of teeth for your entire life (assuming you take great care of them). So why do we get cavities?
Let’s start with explaining what a cavity is first then we can explain why cavities happen and how to prevent them.
What is a cavity?
Dental cavities are considered a disease. Yes, that is correct, you heard right, cavities are a disease of the mouth! Even though they’re preventable, cavities are the most common chronic disease in children and adolescents. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children ages 2 to 11 develop a cavity in their baby (primary) teeth. If you’re an adult, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. 9 out of 10 adults over the age of 20 have had one or more cavities, according to the CDC. Making cavities the #1 preventable childhood disease!
A cavity is best described as a hole in your tooth. This hole is caused by acid erosion from the bacteria in your mouth that we feed foods that then produce tooth enamel-destroying acid.
The group of germs ( known as bacteria) that play a major role in the development of tooth decay the specific name of the bacteria that cause cavities are called streptococcus mutans.
A tooth surface can take a lot of abuse; since it is the hardest surface in the body. The problem is we do not feel a cavity until it reaches the inner part of the tooth called the nerve. Cavities found early are easily treatable. If you feel pain, it is a big cavity and you should see your dentist, chances are you have a more severe problem and are going to need to make a choice to save it or lose it.
How do cavities form in the mouth?
There isn’t anyone thing that causes a cavity, rather, cavities are caused by several factors happening in your mouth and body.
There are six main factors involved in the creation of a cavity:
- Your teeth and saliva flow
- The bacteria in your mouth
- The choice of food you eat for the bacteria to feast on
- The frequency or number of times you eat during the day are you a constant snacker
- The frequency of the number of times you and brush your teeth
- The pH of your mouth
First, for a tooth to be susceptible to decay, the bacteria must adhere themselves to the tooth. They do this by combining with proteins in saliva and food debris, forming a layer which is known as Plague.
Bacteria love foods that are sticky like saltine crackers, Goldfish crackers, potato chips, sugary foods, and anything processed.
However, the bacteria in your mouth are extremely disappointed with foods like apples, carrots, and broccoli.
Soon after a meal, the bacteria have to “poop” just like any other organism — and they “go” in your mouth. They do this by pooping an acid, which, if collected in one area, the enamel of a tooth over time is actually weakened, creating a whole.
Yes, again you read that right — cavities are formed by bacteria pooping in your mouth.
Surprisingly, the tooth is able to re-mineralize these weakened areas in an early stage, if given the opportunity to and proper resources.
If the colony of plaque is removed or even temporarily disrupted, the acid attack will not occur in the same place, allowing the tooth some time to re-calcify the weakened area. It might not be obvious so I will say it, the role of brushing and flossing are important in the prevention or remineralization of cavities; mechanically removing the plaque and biofilm keeps teeth healthy.
The typical “acid attack” while your wake is lessened by the presence of saliva in our mouths. Saliva dilutes the acid, reducing its concentration and effectiveness in harming the teeth. However, many of us do not realize that we produce less saliva when we sleep, allowing the bacteria to attack the teeth while we sleep. This is why your dentist recommends flossing and brushing before bedtime. If the plaque is disrupted or removed from the teeth before this dangerous period occurs, at least the acid is less effective.
Imagine a newborn kitten peeing on the wood floor of your home. The acid in that waste will slowly erode the softwood floor. However, buffering that acid with lots of water would reduce the acid attack on the wood. This is exactly how saliva protects your teeth. Saliva balances the pH in your mouth.
Even if all the plaque is not displaced, the teeth are able to fend for themselves in other ways. A tooth, while rebuilding itself, will soak up fluoride. Fluoride is much more resistant to being dissolved by subsequent “acid attacks on a tooth.” Topical fluoride applied to our teeth can help protect against cavities. It is best if the teeth are free of plaque for the Fluoride to be most effective.
Consistency in caring for your teeth is crucial to maintaining health.
Notice how I said “maintaining”? Once you have a disease, it’s hard to reverse. The goal is preventing disease! Maintaining the good oral health we are all born with is much easier than letting it go and then treating the disease when you feel pain.
The key is to prevent plaque from building up on your teeth in the first place through proper brushing, flossing, controlling the pH, and knowing the state of your vermouth by seeing a dentist.
Decalcification and remineralization
The topic of healing cavities naturally is like many subjects controversial. It can be overwhelming and confusing, especially if you believe that fillings are the only way to tackle tooth decay. I like to guide parents to take a more proactive approach to dental health.
How does one go about preventing cavities?
I as well as other dental professionals believe that, after cavity prevention, remineralization should be the first line of defense against tooth decay.
It is more complex than just brushing and flossing two times a day although they are both an important part.
It involves awareness, how you breathe, staining the plaque to see where you are missing, controlling the pH, eating the proper diet to support remineralization, and using any necessary supplements for improving dental health.
Staying informed by finding a person you can trust that can relay current research and best practices related to dental health and overall health.
As more people become aware of their ability to reverse cavities naturally, we can reduce the number of kids that get them instead of believing cavities are “normal” and an inevitable part of growing up.
They are not just part of being a kid. You can stop them or reverse them if you have the knowledge and are consistent with oral care. You have to believe you can make anything happen in life. Cavities are no different.
In order for a cavity to happen, you must create the ideal environment for the naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to attach to the outer layer of the tooth and begin to digest sugars from food. The bacteria will then produce a colorless waste called plaque that protects the bacteria and supports its continued growth. Once the plaque and bacteria feast on the snacks you provide them they poop out acid weakening your teeth.
You bust the bacteria up when you brush and floss, disrupting this plaque-forming process.
Additionally, after you brush if you stain them with a disclosing solution that turns the invisible plaque red or blue so you can see where you missed and go back in and get them all out.
Our Saliva protects our teeth, aids in digestion, and helps us swallow our food.
If we do not brush and disrupt the plaque the minerals in our saliva bond with the plaque to form a very hard substance called tartar. This tartar then cannot be brushed off any longer; it must be removed carefully by a professional, but in the meantime, it begins to weaken and dissolve the calcium in the tooth. This process is known as demineralization, this process erodes the calcium rods that form the hard outer layer of our teeth, opening up tiny crevices that allow bacteria to enter and cause decay.
Once decay has set in, and progresses to the next layer of the tooth it can no longer heal itself naturally, we have been conditioned to visit the dentist regularly to catch the problems early. Unfortunately, there are many reasons we do not go see a dentist and believe there is no pain there is no problem. However, there is a multitude of potential consequences of many traditional dental procedures that few patients are aware of. You don’t know what you don’t know! When you know better you can do better.
How are cavities are treated?
Cavities are fairly simple to treat by visiting the dentist. The basic treatment for a cavity is a filling, which involves drilling away the decayed part of the tooth and replacing that hole or “cavity” with a strong filling made of plastic, porcelain, silver, gold, or amalgam. All of which I have in my mouth. The only thing I do not have is an Implant.
The mouth is a microbe-rich environment, and the sensitive inner layer of the teeth, known as dentin protects the pulp, within a structure that protects the nerve of the tooth from the acidic environment.
When the tooth’s outer structure, the enamel, and inner dentin is compromised, that is when you need a filling while drilling through the decay to get to sound teeth structure which is necessary, it carries the potential risk of exposing the tooth’s pulp to harmful bacteria. That is when you require a root canal or if you do not want a root canal the next option is removing the tooth.
I personally do not know any dentists that are still using amalgam fillings, (Silver filling) Most are now using plastic fillings. They are better than metal fillings, even though some BPA, a known endocrine disruptor.
New materials to replace BPA in dental fillings are still under scrutiny, but even in the best-case scenario, fillings that are bonded up against the surface of a tooth will eventually fail. The filling isn’t designed to remineralize as your teeth can. So, from the day you put it in, it begins to degrade. So you can see why prevention is the ideal scenario.
Implants are an option to replace missing teeth but they don’t have the mobility that natural teeth do—they are rigidly set in bone, unlike a tooth that has built-in “shock absorbers” due to the ligaments that surround it. Some people are sensitive to the materials used. Some dentists test people to see if they have sensitivities to the materials before they decide which product to use in their mouth. If you are sensitive to metal and your finger turns green I would investigate this further. We will talk to one of those dentists in a future episode So stay tuned.
As concerning as these common dental procedures may be, the real question is: Why do we have to deal with them in the first place?
For starters, since the agricultural revolution we have modernized our diets and drastically changed the food we consume. Our ancestors Survived on complex carbohydrates and fermented foods, with zero processed foods and limited sweets and sugar.
Existing data shows we consume a crazy amount of sugar and as a result an increase in tooth decay. Although a multi-faceted problem, this increase seems to coincide with increased intake of refined sugar, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates.
Back to Healing Cavities Naturally
Now, if you’re feeling discouraged about your current diet and your risk for cavities—don’t be! As I talked about earlier, it is possible to reverse tooth decay through a process known as remineralization—though there are certain facets of this process that need to be clearly understood.
Does it start with awareness and remineralization?
Remineralization is the natural repair process of teeth. The saliva in the mouth acts much like the blood in our bodies, transporting various organisms around the different biofilm communities. It also deposits minerals, like calcium, onto our teeth. These minerals bond with the enamel and repair deficiencies.
Under ideal oral circumstances, the proper pH, along with minerals like calcium and phosphorus are deposited onto the tooth surface via saliva. As saliva comes in contact with your teeth, there’s an exchange of minerals, and these minerals then bond with the enamel and repair the weakened spots.
Finding ways to offset the potentially damaging bacteria is important to the remineralization process. Restoring a healthy microbiome allows the nutritive benefits of certain minerals to actually begin to repair the damage.
Remember, not all cavities are able to be remineralized— those in the beginning stages of cavity formation can be.
Dentists use a number of techniques to identify cavities, such as x-rays, light, and visualization of white or dark lesions, and only those that are in the earliest stages of formation in the surface of the enamel are the best candidates for reversal via remineralization.
If a cavity has broken through the dentin it cannot be remineralized, nor can a cavity that’s gone so far that it’s causing you or a loved one pain. When there is pain, it’s usually a sign that the damage is too far gone to be reversed, and you should see a dentist ASAP before it gets worse.
Dentists are like snowflakes, no two are alike and they will make their own judgment call regarding the potential remineralization of a cavity. It will depend on their training and beliefs. Between the moment a cavity forms and can be recognized by a dentist and the time it breaks through the dentin layer, there’s a large gray area. Remineralization is often possible at this time, but the cavity must be caught in enough time for reversal, and patients must also determine whether they are willing to take the necessary steps to heal the decay on their own. It is a process and you will need to be diligent and consistent.
For example, if we see a teenager with an early cavity who makes a habit of eating junk food and is unlikely to drastically adjust his or her diet, It is unlikely to recommend a remineralization strategy for reversing the cavity naturally. On the other hand, a patient who is somewhat health-conscious and clearly interested in reversing tooth decay has a good chance at remineralizing the cavity.
Cavities do not happen overnight so they cannot be reversed overnight, or even in a couple of weeks, but a cavity can be remineralized in months. In most cases, three to four months is a reasonable time frame to expect for the remineralization process to work.
This is another reason a dentist will suggest you come back in six months if they have found the beginning stages of a cavity. If you are doing the things necessary to reverse demineralization and encourage remineralization, your dentist should see a difference on your next visit. At that point, he or she will recognize whether the cavity is healed (or on its way to healing) and can make a determination if further treatment is necessary or not.
What is the step-by-step process to heal a cavity?
Proper diet is the main component in reversing and/or preventing cavities.
You will want to Absolutely consume more of the foods and nutrients that help heal cavities naturally, including:
- Calcium and phosphorus found in dairy
- Vitamin D
- Calcium-rich seafood
- Vegetables and nuts
- Vitamin K2
And you should also avoid foods that actually promote demineralization.
- Highly acidic foods and beverages
- Sugary foods
You can also minimize their effects by rinsing your mouth with water immediately after consuming will also help in the process of remineralization or waiting 30-45 minutes before brushing.
If you want to use a mouth rinse, opt for a natural mouth rinse that does not kill all of the bacteria in the mouth, there are beneficial bacteria that help rebalance the oral microbiome and promote remineralization. Antibacterial mouthwashes should be avoided at all costs; I also recommend choosing a mouth rinse with a high pH (9 or higher) to promote alkalinity in the mouth.
The environment of the mouth is a delicate microbiome, with varying concentrations of minerals, bacteria, acids, pH levels, and more. Maintaining a balance in this microbiome is important for healing a cavity. Even rinsing out your mouth with plain water can help to rebalance this sensitive environment or I use 1 teaspoon of baking soda in water.
Keeping your mouth’s pH above a 7 is an ongoing struggle but one that is necessary to prevent or remineralize early decay. For example, a tooth left in a simple distilled water solution will begin to demineralize because distilled water has no calcium or phosphate. However, even if the level of acidity in the water is increased, the tooth will not begin to demineralize if the levels of calcium and phosphate are also sufficiently increased. It’s about balance.
If you’re a parent, you’ve likely wondered why kids are seemingly more susceptible to cavities than adults. Or why one child in the family is more susceptible to cavities when you all eat the same foods?
There are many factors for one as an adult, your body isn’t growing and laying down the bone for growth like it is in a child. The resources for remineralization in a child are just not as available because their bodies are busy growing. Therefore, it is important to increase the levels of calcium and other minerals your child is consuming in order to increase the odds of successful remineralization. It is also important to balance the pH in the mouth and body.
Just like in adults, reducing the consumption of sugar, especially those which stick to the tooth’s surface will aid in producing a cavity-healing environment in children.
Adding foods rich in calcium are important for rebuilding the tooth’s surface, and chewing crunchy foods like carrots and celery after a meal can act as nature’s toothbrush to remove food particles and gently clean the tooth’s surface. We call them nature candy!
Regular visits to the dentist for a check-up, cleaning, examination, and x-rays to detect early cavities. It’s better to find any potential trouble spots early if you plan to take a proactive approach and attempt to naturally reverse any tooth decay.
Can you stop the pain in your mouth?
If your teeth are sensitive it may not be from a cavity at all it could be on the outside of the tooth and is caused by trauma from your toothbrush from you brushing back and forth scrubbing your teeth it is known as recession. Part of the enamel or root surface has been worn away opening the tubules on the surface causing you that sensitivity. Try the following tips to minimize pain:
Use a soft toothbrush
Use an electric toothbrush and hold it in place to allow it to do the work
Use a sensitive toothpaste
Don’t drink anything acidic (including coffee, alcohol, citrus juice, kombucha, and soda)
Using nano-hydroxyapatite toothpaste to remineralize the cavity
If that does not work and you are still in pain see a dentist make sure it is not a cavity or a bigger issue.
Most of us tend to think that once we get a cavity there isn’t much we can do to resolve the problem, other than having it drilled and filled. However, this isn’t always the case. When you have a cavity, there is a lot that can be done before the drill is fired up if you catch it early enough. In fact, you may be able to completely and naturally reverse your cavities.
When it comes to prevention you must first consider your diet. This means eliminating foods that contribute to cavity formation (mainly sugars and carbohydrates), but it also means adding in the right foods that prevent decay and support remineralization.
Eating to reverse cavities:
- Reduce or eliminate sugar and carbohydrates— That feed the cavity-forming bacteria.
- Make sure you’re getting enough fat-soluble vitamins— A, D, E, and K.
- Pay specific attention to your intake of vitamin K—The K vitamins were identified as an essential element for healthy teeth. With vitamins A and D in the formation, growth, and remineralization of teeth.
- Make sure you’re getting enough minerals—Especially calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
- Reduce your phytic acid intake—Found mostly in plant seeds, phytic acid interferes with nutrient absorption, especially calcium.
Understanding your teeth’s natural ability to rebuild
If you implement prevention you won’t need to concern yourself with a dentist grabbing their drill and “fix” cavities with synthetic fillings. The truth is that the process of filling cavities actually weakens the teeth and can cause more issues in the future, but if we truly understand the natural capabilities of teeth, we may be able to prevent this altogether.
Your teeth are much more than the straight white teeth everyone wants. They are the cornerstone of our total body health. Knowing as much as possible about them will save you the two most precious commodities we have: time and money.
From the outside in, your teeth consist of three major parts: the crown, dentin, and pulp.
The crown is the outer layer and is what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s translucent and shell-like, The enamel structure on the outside of the tooth is composed primarily of calcium rods (96%), along with water and protein.
The dentin is the inside layer located just under the crown and covers the pulp. It consists of calcified tissue 70% calcium and 30% protein. The dentin is the primary part of the tooth affected by demineralization, or cavities. Once a cavity reaches this part of the tooth it grows fast.
The pulp is the soft tissue at the center of the teeth. This part of the tooth contains nerve endings and blood vessels, so it is very important to keep it protected. When decay and damage reach the pulp it is very painful, and, in most cases, requires a root canal for repair to save it.
Now that you know a little more about the basic structure of your teeth, consider this: Just like your hair, nails, and skin, your teeth are constantly rebuilding and regenerating. How else could your teeth last an entire lifetime (assuming proper care) and it can withstand the constant abuse of biting, chewing, and tearing?
Your teeth contain the hardest substance in the human body — your enamel.
Bones aren’t quite as hard as enamel, but they rank closely on the hardness scale.
Other parts of your body (like muscles, ligaments, and tendons) are incredibly strong but don’t come close to the mineral-based tissue in your teeth and bones.
Dental disease is silent and does not hurt in its early stages.
There are things you can do. The first is to decide. Take action early when you are in control or wait to roll the dice to see what happens.
You can actually add supplements to your diet to help remineralize your teeth. These supplements include:
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin K2
- Oral probiotic
Our body is amazing and for the most part, was made to heal itself with the nutrients we supply it. So why would it shock us to know our teeth have been designed to repair themselves also. Even though they are the strongest surface in the body, like our bodies they can only take so much neglect and abuse. There are some situations in which a filling is actually the solution to your problems. If your cavity is causing pain, sensitivity or has reached the pulp of your teeth—it’s time to see a dentist and opt for a filling rather than wait until you can’t stand it anymore and you need a root canal, extraction or worse yet it falls out on its own.
Before letting the cavity progresses to an emergency state, I recommend having a conversation with yourself about what it is you are waiting for. I for one would like to know if I am healthy, so I can take steps to heal myself while I still get to make the decision. If you wait too long the decision will be made for you and you have no other options. I like options. How about you?
If you visit the dentist regularly you can catch the disease early enough and if you do happen to get a cavity, you can ask them how deep it is and whether they think there’s a chance you could support natural remineralization processes and potentially avoid the drill.
I’ve seen many patients successfully reverse cavities, and now that you’re equipped with this knowledge, I feel confident you can too if you don’t wait until it’s too late.
The choice is yours!
Let me know your takeaways in the comments!
A Healthy Mouth is a Healthy Body and Healthy life