The best way to “heal” cavities is to physically prevent them from occurring in the first place.By: Joyce Kahng, DDS •November 14, 2023
If you look on apps like Pinterest or TikTok, you’ll find plenty of people claiming to naturally heal their cavities at home. Some sites even show pictures of supposed before-and-after results of healing tooth decay naturally. But is it true, and how does cavity reversal actually work?
While there is some partial truth to reversing tooth decay, it’s important to understand how cavities form and what cavity reversal actually looks like. In reality, it’s quite different than what you probably have in mind.
Cavities are areas of tooth structure that have eroded due to bacteria and acid exposure. When plaque sits on the teeth for long periods of time—due to inadequate brushing or flossing habits—or if you have a high intake of natural and artificial sweeteners or processed carbs, the more acid erosion there will be. Over time, the bacteria begin to “eat” through your tooth structure.
That being said, the first stage of every cavity is what we refer to as “demineralization.” It’s at this state where a cavity can, in fact, be reversed.
Enamel demineralization is the process where tooth structure begins losing minerals because of constant plaque and acid exposure. As the tooth starts to weaken, it takes on a chalky-white appearance in those spaces.
Demineralization is most common along the gumlines where plaque is thickest, or in the deep grooves of back teeth that are hard to clean. We also see demineralization occur in orthodontic patients around their brackets; when their appliances are removed, visible white circles are left behind.
Although most people assume cavities are brown or black, weak enamel turns white as it begins to decay. The good news is the demineralization process can be stopped if caught early enough before it erodes and creates a physical hole (cavity) in your tooth.
The best way to “heal” cavities is to physically prevent them from occurring in the first place. That means a great plaque-removal plan consisting of brushing along the gums twice a day, using fluoride, and flossing around every tooth, every day. Drinking plenty of water will also help, as it naturally rinses away bacteria and acids between meals or snacking. Also, limit your intake of processed carbs and artificial sweeteners (including diet soda or sports drinks) as those foods are what we call highly “cariogenic”; that is, they tend to encourage cavities.
If you’re already starting to get a cavity, the only way to heal it naturally is to remineralize the tooth. The key is to remineralize it quickly while the “cavity” is still reversible.
To stop the process of tooth decay and physically reverse enamel demineralization, you must apply fluoride to the tooth. Fluoride is a natural mineral that makes up teeth and bones, similar to calcium. Because demineralized teeth are beginning to erode, applying concentrated fluoride to the tooth allows the tooth structure to absorb the minerals and repair itself.
The best fluoride to use to reverse a cavity is a prescription gel from your dentist. When used as directed, the fluoride helps repair and strengthen the tooth before a physical cavity forms. Dentists may also recommend topical fluoride varnish or a similar treatment at the time of your dental checkup.
Physical holes in teeth—which is what cavities are—cannot repair themselves or “grow back.” The cells that make up teeth are not like other tissues in the body that repair and rebuild or scar over. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. It is both physically and scientifically impossible to heal a cavity once there’s a literal hole in your tooth.
The good news is that if you’re using fluoride toothpaste and/or rinse and you’re brushing and flossing daily, you’re probably healing early-stage cavities (demineralization) without even realizing it.
Unfortunately, no. Once decay has broken through your tooth enamel and that white spot turns into a cratered-out lesion, the only way to stop it from getting worse is to see your dentist. The dentist will clean out the decay and then repair the area to protect the adjacent tooth anatomy. Small fillings allow you to prevent cavities from turning into abscessed teeth and are a lot more affordable than getting a root canal or crown.
If you’ve been told that you can heal a cavity by drinking milk, eating cheese, or swishing with coconut oil, sadly, it’s not true. The good news is that you can stop the cavity right when it starts and “cure” the tooth demineralization before it eats its way straight through your enamel.
So…what about the people who say their dentist diagnosed a cavity, they went home and tried a DIY cavity reversal technique, then saw another dentist who told them the cavity was gone? It may be a matter of opinion, especially if the cavity is extremely small or not quite broken through the tooth enamel. That’s one reason why it’s never a bad idea to stay up to date on dental X-rays or get a second opinion if you’re not sure about the first diagnosis. Some dentists are more conservative, while others may want to go ahead and treat an area as early as possible.
Any cavity that has ruptured through the outer layer of tooth enamel can easily spread deeper into the tooth, becoming larger or killing the tooth completely. It’s important to see your dentist every six months for regular checkups so that small cavities can be intercepted as early as possible.
If your cavity is still in the early stages of demineralization, your dentist will show you how to remineralize or “reverse” the decay. But a small filling will be needed ASAP if there’s a physical hole in your tooth. The good news is those earlier treatments are both minimally invasive and more affordable.
Maybe you’re behind on your six-month checkup. If you’re experiencing symptoms of sensitive teeth, sharp or rough tooth edges, food packing in specific areas, floss breaking around the same tooth every day, or pain whenever you’re eating, call your dentist to schedule an exam.
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