This is a huge topic on the Internet, and by now I think I've heard every type of claim that's out there. Quite often the claims are spurious and downright harmful to anyone who listens to them. As a dental professional I've found an endless supply of people on the Internet who insist they know more about teeth than the professionals in the field. If there's one topic that brings that out of people the most, it's the ability to naturally reverse or "cure" cavities.
I'm not sure why so many people insist that reversing cavities is "secret insider information" or that it's something your dentist "hides from you." If you have ever been to the dentist and they say to "watch" or "put a watch on" a tooth, this indicates that the cavity can be reversed.
So in a nutshell, not all of the claims are spurious or untrue. The teeth can heal themselves, and cavities can be reversed. In fact this is widely known and understood in dentistry, and represents a sizable portion of what we do. What's not understood, however, is that there are stipulations that apply, and not all cavities can be reversed.
Dental cavities, also called dental caries or carious lesions, represent parts of the tooth structure that have become compromised. When plaque bacteria sits in the mouth and on the teeth, it releases lactic acid to the surrounding tissues. If plaque colonies are not constantly disrupted by brushing, flossing, or using a Waterpik, the lactic acid causes a constant assault on the enamel of the teeth.
Though enamel is the strongest substance in the body, there is only a thin layer over the tooth's crown, and it can't withstand the acid forever. After a while, the minerals that comprise the tooth begin to deteriorate. This is called dental decay, and what's left is a hole in the tooth's structure, called a cavity (or carious lesion.)
On a more scientific level, the teeth are composed of calcium hydroxyapatite minerals: Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2. Calcium hydroxyapatite is a crystalized form of calcium phosphate. Each layer of the tooth progressively gets softer and contains less mineralized content the deeper you go into the tooth.
The enamel on the outside of the tooth is the strongest, composed of 96% mineral content. The layer underneath, called dentin, is composed of just 70% mineral content. Cementum, which covers the roots of the teeth, is composed of just 45% mineral content. The innermost part of the tooth, the pulp, can be considered the "living" part of the tooth. It contains blood vessels, nerves, and active cells. The pulp is not mineralized, but depends on the other mineralized layers of the tooth for protection.
If you have ever been to the dentist and they say to "watch" or "put a watch on" a tooth, this indicates that the cavity can be reversed. But not all cavities are created equal! Some cavities are too far gone to be able to reverse them. In fact, reversing cavities can only occur in the beginning phases of development.
In the stage where teeth can still heal, or remineralize, the decayed portion is termed a white spot lesion. When you have a white spot lesion, the demineralization (decay of the tooth structure) is minimal, and only affects the enamel layer of the tooth. By remineralizing the decayed tooth structure in this area, the mineral content of the enamel can be restored.
By the time a white spot lesion becomes a carious lesion, the decay has reached all the way through the enamel to the dentin beneath. As noted above, dentin is much less mineralized than enamel, and therefore a lot softer and weaker. When decay reaches this layer, it quickly progresses toward the dental pulp. At this stage in development, it's too late for the cavity to be remineralized (reversed.) The one chance you have is before the hard outer layer of enamel has been completely compromised.
As the decay progressively demineralizes and destroys the dentin layer, the enamel can no longer depend on the dentin layer for stability or strength. After all, the enamel is very strong but also delicate. Think of porcelain alone compared to porcelain with a cast iron backbone beneath it. Often the unaffected enamel surrounding the cavity will give way because it no longer has the support of dentin beneath it. This speeds the decay process even more. When a cavity reaches the pulp cavity, tooth pain and infection will set in, and drastic measures (like a root canal or extraction) will need to be taken to protect the person's life.
When talking about cavities and white spot lesions, we need to think in terms of minerals, remineralization, and demineralization. Since the enamel's composition is 96% minerals, those minerals that have been taken away need to be put back again.
White spot lesions, or the beginning stages of cavities, can be reversed and restored through the process of remineralization. Bathing the compromised area in the appropriate minerals allows for the healing process to begin.
Myth: While some claim that oil pulling can help remineralize teeth, it is really the saliva that remineralizes during this process. Oil pulling decreases the bacterial load in the mouth, but has not been shown to scientifically reverse white spot lesions.
Disclaimer: While natural tooth remineralization methods generally work well, this is not a replacement for ongoing professional dental care and hygiene check-ups. Routine check-ups and x-rays ensure that your cavities are caught in the early stages when remineralization is still an option.
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