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What is a cavity?
Cavities, called dental caries or tooth decay, is the formation of holes in teeth. Cavities begin to develop by the breakdown of hard surface of tooth (the enamel) and then damaging the inner parts of your tooth. It leaves holes and openings in teeth.
Cavities are one of the most common health issues that can target anyone from adults, teenagers, children and even infants. It is caused by colonies of bacteria known as plaque biofilm on teeth. Plaque accumulates on the teeth’s surface and produces acids, which breaks down the tooth structure and demineralizes the teeth. High consumption of sugary drinks and foods, poor oral hygiene, low fluoride intake are some of the primary causes.
If cavities go untreated, it becomes larger, exposing inner layer of teeth to bacteria in the mouth and causing more oral health risks. You end up with severely worn-down teeth, extreme forms of tooth decay (rampant caries), tooth loss, infections and gum diseases. As a first preventive action, brush and floss daily to get rid of food particles and plaque buildups on teeth. Do not forget to have regular dental check-ups to have your teeth examined by a dentist.
Symptoms of tooth cavities
At first, you have mild form of tooth decay and caries. When tooth decay persists and you don’t brush your teeth or avoid hygiene practices, caries and decay slowly progress from the outer layer (enamel) to much deeper in teeth to your dentine and finally infecting the pulp of your tooth. The pulp is where the nerves and blood vessels exist. Cavities ultimately develop and result in destruction of part of tooth or a complete loss of the tooth. The most common signs and symptoms of tooth cavities are:
- Toothache or feeling of pain in your teeth.
- Teeth sensitivity. Exposed underlying layers of your tooth can give you feeling of sensitivity and pain
- Pits and fissures on teeth which can have tiny hole, cracks or have a dark color
- Stained teeth with yellowish, black or brown color on the surface
- Pain due to damaged or infected pulp. Cavities can be so severe that leave the inner part of your teeth (the pulp) open to infection and penetration of bacteria
What are the causes of tooth cavities?
Tooth cavities are caused by dental caries or tooth decay. You may ask what causes tooth decay at first place that results in cavities to appear. The answer is dental plaque.
- Dental plaque begins to form on the surface of tooth.
Plaque is a sticky biofilm that accumulates and covers the surface of teeth. It consists of various bacteria and other microorganisms that adhere to teeth and feed on the sugar and food particles remaining in mouth. If a person does not clean teeth or use mechanical way like brushing to disturb the plaque, it hardens over time and turns into calculus or tartar. Calculus (known as tartar) is the deposits of plaque that has calcified and mineralized on the teeth’s surface.
- Dental plaque does what it is supposed to do.
You may ask what plaque can do. Unfortunately, plaque has its own metabolism and it needs energy to live on just like human cells. Therefore, dental plaque gets its energy from sugars like sucrose or other sources in your foods. But it doesn’t end there because plaque produces acid, which demineralizes the enamel of teeth. Little by little the tooth will be destroyed by acids and it starts to erode. The acids don’t stop in the first layer and damage the dentine, which is the deeper layer.
- Decay and finally cavities are formed.
As a result of dental erosion by acids and together with tooth decay development, cavities are formed. The decay and larger cavities can infect the pulp of teeth, where the nerves and blood vessels are. The pulp damage requires root canal therapy and restoration of tooth. You can have extremely painful toothaches or sensitivity by changes in temperature from cold or hot foods and drinks.
You should know the main causes of tooth cavities to decrease the risks of plaque or acids in your mouth. The most important causes of tooth cavities are:
- foods and drinks that are high is sugar
- acidic drinks and foods
- poor oral hygiene with no daily brushing or flossing
- less fluoride intake
- xerostomia (dry mouth) condition or saliva disorders
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other acid reflux problems
- gum diseases and receding gum condition
- eating disorders
- tooth decay in children
Complications of tooth cavities
Cavities and tooth decay will impact your overall health and cause numerous complications. If you don’t do something about your cavities whether during childhood or as an adult, you will be confronted with serious health issues. Some of the complications of tooth cavities are:
- recurrent pain in teeth, which can be extreme and last hours
- swelling and inflammation around your teeth
- tooth abscess, which causes infections. It can put your health at higher risks and even life-threating situations by serious forms of bacterial infection.
- Cracked, damaged and worn-down teeth with irreversible destruction of tooth’s structure that require dental restorations
- Tooth loss, which not only causes problems in chewing or eating but impacts your smile and appearance
Ultimately you are faced with
- Dental costs. Whether to repair the damaged tooth or replace it with a new one, you will have unwanted dental costs to reshape your teeth and get the normal function and appearance for your teeth again.
Treatments for tooth cavities
You may ignore cavities in your teeth because you may think it is not visible or there is still no pain. Visiting a dentist can prevent further progress of tooth cavities and tooth decay. You can receive the best treatments that restores your damaged tooth or teeth.
Your dentist can perform the following treatments for your cavities:
- Fluoride treatment.
Fluoride therapy or treatment with fluoride is both a prevention and a treatment for tooth cavities. Fluoride is a crucial ingredient to fight against cavities and decay. Since fluoride helps in mineralization of teeth, it is added to toothpastes and other oral health products to strengthen your teeth.
In fluoride therapy, your dentist will apply fluoride gel, varnish, liquid or other fluoride-containing product in large amount over your teeth or through using a custom tray that you fit over your teeth.
- Dental bonding or tooth filling.
Dentists can restore fractures and broken parts of teeth through dental bonding procedure. In this procedure, they use white materials such as composite resin which matches the color of your teeth for dental restoration. If cavities have left large holes in a tooth, dentists will fill the prepared cavity with either tooth-colored materials such as porcelain or composite resin or darker materials like amalgam filling.
- Dental crown.
Sometimes, tooth cavities can ruin the tooth so severely that most upper part of your tooth is lost and is decayed. Your dentist drills the damaged parts and build up a new crown for your tooth. They can make your dental crown using materials such as porcelain, composite resin, all metal crowns or porcelain fused to metal.
- Root canal.
Cavities and tooth decay may have penetrated into the inner parts of your tooth, so it is possible that the pulp inside have become infected and damaged. The pulp damage can lead to complete loss of tooth. Therefore, your dentist will perform root canal treatment to save your tooth. In this procedure, dentists drill a hole from top of the tooth to remove the damaged pulp. Then the root canals are cleaned and then filled with necessary dental materials. Later, your dentist restores the entire upper part of your tooth or just the decay-affected areas. You would have your tooth back with no need for extraction.
- Tooth extraction.
. Dentists extract a tooth when they see the tooth is not restorable and can’t be brought back even with root canal treatment. Decay and cavities have ruined down the tooth, so they perform tooth extraction. After pulling your tooth, you need a period of healing for a few weeks or maybe months. You can then choose how you are going to replace your missing tooth or teeth. Dentists can offer you various options such as dentures, bridges or dental implant.
- Dental implant.
If the tooth is lost due to severe cavities and dental caries, it should be extracted and replaced. Dental implant is one great solution as a replacement. Your dentist drills jawbone and carves the implant as root for your tooth. Then the crown part of your tooth is made.
What can you do to prevent cavities?
You might want to know how to prevent cavities after all. Becoming aware of all these harmful destruction by dental caries and cavities should convince you to seek preventive tasks even in early stages. You can do some simple tips like:
- Brush your teeth daily with a fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Rinse your mouth with antibacterial mouthwashes that have fluoride in its ingredient
- Floss every day to get rid of food particles stuck between your teeth
- Practice a healthier lifestyle by healthy eating and no more smoking
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks
- Include more dairy products in your eating plan and eat foods high in calcium to boost mineralization of bone and teeth
- Get vitamin D either from sun exposure or from your diet like bread, fish, milk, yogurt or other sources.
Important tip: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for skeletal growth and therefore for teeth. Lack of vitamin D especially for children means development of many diseases and problems such as bone deformities or dental conditions. This vitamin regulates calcium absorption and increase mineralization of bone and teeth.
- Have more of your public water. Fluoride is also added to the community water systems in most countries, so drinking your tap water can also supply you with fluoride.
- Try dental fissure sealants. Your back teeth have pits and fissures (grooves) that can be a good place for bacteria to hide. Dental sealant, which is a thin layer of dental material coating like composite resin, can fill these pits and fissures. It acts as a preventive treatment for your teeth against decay and cavity formation.
- Chew xylitol chewing gums. Xylitol-containing chewing gums are sugarless and are great to stimulate saliva in your mouth. The more saliva, the less dry mouth. Also, saliva helps in mineralization process of teeth and is a natural teeth and mouth washer.
The final say
Having regular dental check-ups can let your dentist detect the signs and symptoms of tooth decay earlier. By tanking X-rays and doing careful examination, your dentist can diagnose the cavities and take actions to stop it from damaging more of the tooth’s structure. Home care is always the same: never ignore brushing and do daily tooth cleaning with more attention on healthy eating and what to eat or avoid eating. If treatment is necessary, dentists offer the most suitable option regarding your tooth condition and your financial limit.