Oral Health Care in NWT

Dental Decay/Caries or Cavities

Why is oral health important?

  • Oral health is an essential component of your overall health.
  • Your mouth is the gateway to your body – we eat, breathe and communicate with our mouths!
  • Healthy mouths in children promote healthy growth, nutrition, speech and language development, good school performance, and social well-being.
  • In children, cavities can lead to significant tooth and mouth pain, which can affect:
    • Sleep quality
    • School attendance
    • Being able to chew food properly, affecting nutrition
    • Being able to speak properly, affecting language development
    • Social well-being and self-esteem
  • In adults, cavities and other oral diseases can also lead to significant tooth and mouth pain, which can affect:
    • Sleep quality
    • Work attendance
    • Being able to chew food properly, affecting nutrition
    • Being able to speak properly
    • Social well-being and self-esteem

What is a cavity?

  • Cavities are also called caries or tooth decay.
  • Cavities are preventable.
  • A cavity is a permanently damaged area in the hard outer surface (enamel) of a tooth. 
  • Cavities in the early stages usually do not cause pain, and may appear as an extra-white, chalky spot on a tooth, or a brown spot on the tooth.
  • Left untreated, a cavity will develop into a visible hole in the tooth and may progress to the deeper layers of a tooth.  This can lead to severe pain, infection and tooth loss.

How do cavities form?

  • Cavities are caused by a bacterial infection in our mouths.
  • Cavities develop from:
    • Plaque/bacteria – is a sticky film that naturally grows on surfaces within the mouth
    • Sugar - from food and drinks we consume that mixes with the plaque to form an acid
    • Acid - when the sugar we consume mixes with the plaque in our mouths an acid is formed. This acid breaks down the outer layer the tooth.  
    • Time – The longer the acid sits on your teeth, the more likely you are to get cavities.
    • Frequency/time – The more often you consume sugary foods and drinks and the longer they remain on your teeth, the more likely you are to get cavities.
    • Brushing and flossing will stop the acid from attacking the tooth and causing a cavity.

How do we get the bacteria that cause cavities?

  • The bacteria that cause the infection leading to cavities naturally occur in our mouths.  However, the more bacteria we have, the more likely we are to get cavities.
  • We can decrease the amount of bacteria in our mouths by brushing our teeth twice a day for two minutes, especially right before bed.  Using an anti-bacterial mouthwash, on top of brushing and flossing, can further decrease the number of bacteria in our mouths.
  • The bacteria that cause cavities can be passed from person to person through saliva.  This can increase the amount of bacteria in our mouths and increase the chance of getting cavities.
  • The bacteria is passed from person to person by:
    • Sharing forks and spoons
    • Sharing cups or bottles
    • Sharing toothbrushes or letting toothbrushes touch
    • Kissing on the lips
    • Sharing lip balm
    • Pre-chewing and/or temperature-testing foods by mouth
    • Putting pacifiers in our mouths to “clean” them, then giving them to the baby/child
    • Having cavities ourselves when doing any or all the above

How can a cavity or poor oral health affect my overall health?

  • Tooth pain can be excruciating.  In children, the pain and tooth loss from cavities and oral disease can lead to:
    • Poor sleep
    • Not being able to chew food properly, which can lead to poor nutrition and slow development
    • Missing school and/or not being able to concentrate in school
    • Delayed speech and language development
    • Decreased self-esteem and social well-being.
  • In adults, tooth pain and tooth loss from poor oral health can lead to:
    • Poor sleep
    • Work absences
    • Poor nutrition and dietary habits
    • Decreased self-esteem and social well-being
  • Poor oral health in childhood may lead to poor oral health as an adult.
  • Poor oral health has also been linked to heart disease, lung and respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.  

Why are baby teeth important, and how do baby teeth affect adult teeth?

  • Having cavities in the baby teeth increases the risk of cavities in adult teeth.
  • Baby teeth hold the space needed for the adult teeth to grow into.
  • Having baby teeth pulled too soon can create issues/concerns for the adult teeth such as crowding or crooked teeth.
  • Baby teeth are important for:
    • Chewing
    • Speaking
    • Appearance
    • Jaw growth and development

Why do some people get cavities and some people don’t?

  • Many factors contribute to whether or not a person will develop cavities. 
  • Factors that decrease the risk of cavities include:
    • Good tooth brushing and flossing habits
    • Use of fluoride toothpaste
    • Fluoridated community drinking water
    • Access to an oral health care professional or primary health care provider
  • Factors that increase the risk of cavities include:
    • Certain eating habits:  a high-sugar diet, frequent snacking, eating chewy/sticky foods often, drinking pop and other sugary drinks regularly
    • Certain medications:  medications that cause dry mouth
    • Smoking and use of tobacco products
    • Having household members with active oral disease (untreated cavities)