Cavities (technically called dental caries) are the second most common disease (colds are more common, of course). If you’re lucky, you might not have had one since you were a kid, when you craved sweets and didn’t know how to brush and floss properly. But a survey showed that 91% of Americans ages 20-64 had cavities as adults. Both young and old patients need 175 million fillings each year.
There are two reasons why cavities occur so often. First, diet and snacking. Many adults do not realize that it isn’t enough to not eat candy to prevent caries: simple carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, white rice, and other refined forms of grains) actually turn into sugar right away. These and sticky foods and acidic beverages erode the protective enamel of the teeth.
Second, very few of us grew up having been taught how to floss and brush effectively. Brushing needs to be done for a full two minutes twice a day, preferably right after either breakfast or lunch, then after dinner. This requires brushing both sides of each tooth, scraping from the root to the tip. Flossing should be done at least after the last snack of the day, moving the thread so that a new segment cleans a space between the teeth, scraping each side. You should also have your dental hygienist give you a professional cleaning at least twice a year: she has tools and techniques that enable her to do a much better job than you can, even if you are very good at it.
But if you do get a cavity, today’s fillings are usually made of a composite plastic resin, rather than the old mercury or metal amalgam material, which was of questionable safety and definitely unattractive. Resin can be colored to exactly match the white shade of your teeth, so that no one will ever know that you had a cavity.
The treatment is painless due to an anesthetic injection before it starts. It takes less than an hour to remove the infection and replace it with the composite tooth-colored filling. The resin is hardened with a special light and bonds with the tooth’s chemical structure, making it very durable.