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6. If You Have a Cavity, You'll Know It

Myth. “That’s a big, big, bad myth,” Harms says. Mild tooth decay doesn’t cause symptoms. The pain we associate with cavities comes when tooth decay is more advanced and causes damage to the nerve.

Allowing tooth decay to advance can “lead to much more expensive procedures, like root canals,” says Harms. That’s why regular dental checkups are so important. 

Also, once a cavity starts, it doesn’t repair itself. A cavity “will always grow once you get to a point where you can’t clean it out any longer.” Once decay gets into the dentin of the tooth -- below the enamel -- it just continues to grow.

7. Once a Tooth Is Treated, the Decaying Stops

Fact. “You can get decay later on in other areas of the tooth, but the particular decay that was taken out is gone.”

Once you get a cavity filled -- and if you maintain good brushing, flossing, and rinsing habits -- you typically won’t get decay in that spot again.

Harms adds one caveat: “Sometimes a filling gets old and the margins where it meets the tooth begin to break down or pull away, and because you can’t reach it to clean it out, bacteria can get in there and decay can begin again.”

8. Cavities Are More Likely Between Teeth

Fact. “Anywhere bacteria can hide that you can't, or aren't able to, reach with a toothbrush or floss is a likely place for decay,” says Harms. The deep grooves on the back of your front teeth are a good place for tooth decay, for example. “And yes, it can happen between teeth because the toothbrush won’t get in there and a lot of people have trouble flossing.” This is where using a mouth rinse with fluoride (also called an anti-cavity rinse) can give you extra protection.

9. Gaps in Teeth Encourage Cavities

Fact. If you have a small gap between your teeth and can’t clean it, you’re more likely to develop tooth decay there.

“Bigger gaps are easier to keep clean,” says Harms. So as long as they are free of bacteria, big gaps are less likely to develop tooth decay.

10. Chips and Cracks in Teeth Lead to Decay

Fact. If cracks and chips create a hiding place for bacteria, a spot where your toothbrush can't reach, those areas are more prone to tooth decay. Using a fluoride mouth rinse can reduce the risk of decay since it can flow into places your brush can’t reach.

“Lately we’re seeing more and more cracks in teeth because people are grinding,” Harms says. “Stress, worries about the economy, it makes some people grind their teeth more. ... Stress [management] can play an important role in tooth health.”

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