Cavities are small holes in the teeth that form as a result of decay. During the decay process, the outer layers of the teeth, known as enamel and dentin, are worn away, leaving eroded areas called cavities.

Causes of Cavities

Cavities are caused by a buildup of bacteria, food particles and saliva which combine to form dental plaque, a film that coats the teeth. Since plaque is acidic, it can attack the tooth enamel, and then the dentin, causing decay which results in cavities. Regular tooth cleaning helps keep plaque away, but decay often occurs in the back teeth which are harder to clean.

Symptoms of Cavities

Symptoms of cavities vary depending on their severity and location. Many people do not experience any symptoms when decay is just beginning. As decay progresses, however, patients may experience symptoms which include:

  • Tooth pain
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Pain while eating or drinking certain foods or beverages
  • Visible holes in the teeth

Treatment of Cavities

Treatment for cavities depends on the severity of the condition, which is why it is important to seek medical attention as early as possible. Treatment options may include the following:

  • Fluoride treatments
  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • Root canal

Who is at Risk for Dental Cavities?

If you have any natural teeth in your mouth, you are at risk of developing cavities. Some people may seem to be more cavity prone than others. This could simply be a result of having too much acidity in the mouth. Cavities form when acid, usually deposited by oral bacteria, softens and weakens the hard enamel shell that covers teeth. Once an area weakens, it is more susceptible to further breakdown when touched by the acidic byproduct of the natural bacteria that live in the mouth.

How Common are Dental Cavities?

Tooth decay is one of the most common preventable oral diseases in children and adults. Statistics indicate that approximately 90 percent of people will have at least one cavity in their lifetime. Keep in mind that cavities are common and also preventable! Together, you and your dentist can discuss the factors that contribute to tooth decay and how to manage them.

How Do I Know if Have a Dental Cavity?

Don't wait to notice the signs of tooth decay to see your dentist. Often, the smallest cavities do not cause pain or sensitivity. They're found only through a thorough dental checkup. If a tooth starts to hurt when you bite or chew, feel sensitive to hot or cold, or notice a dull or throbbing ache, you may have a cavity. Early care can minimize the amount of reparation that is needed to restore optimal strength to the tooth.

What are My Treatment Options?

The earlier you receive treatment for a cavity the better. In some cases, very minor cavities can be treated with a simple fluoride treatment. Fluoride can help remineralize the part of the tooth that has been damaged by acidity, thus reversing the cavity. This conservative treatment is effective only when a cavity is caught in its earliest stage. If a cavity cannot be reversed, the dentist can remove the damaged, softened enamel and insert a tooth-colored filling. This restoration can last many years. If a cavity is not properly treated soon enough, an infection can develop in the softer material beneath the layer of enamel. Infection can travel quickly through soft dentin and settle in the pulp chamber at the center of the tooth. In this instance, the pulp, nerve, and root of the tooth must be removed. The root canals and chamber are then treated with sterilizing fluid and are filled with a putty-like material. The root canal procedure is commonly followed up by the placement of a dental crown to protect the tooth.

Why are Dental Cavities Harmful?

Cavities are an indication of too much acidity in the mouth. The excessive acidity, caused by oral bacteria, can also affect the gums. Dental cavities are harmful because, without prompt treatment, can cause extensive damage to your teeth, requiring repair with dental crowns. While dental crowns can protect the damaged tooth, there is now a margin of space between the crown and the gums in which oral bacteria can settle and cause inflammation or infection around the tooth. It is far better to practice diligent oral care than includes both brushing and flossing than to suffer unnecessarily with tooth decay.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

It isn't all that difficult to prevent cavities at any age. Your diet is one risk factor that you can control by limiting the amount of sugary foods and beverages you consume. Another factor that is well within your control is how well you take care of your teeth. Brushing morning and night, using fluoride toothpaste is a must, as is daily flossing. Finally, you can prevent the buildup of too much acid in your mouth by sipping water throughout the day. It can be especially helpful to also swish water through the mouth after meals and snacks. Whether you notice signs of cavities or not, it is also important to see your dentist every six months! These visits can spot the early signs of tooth decay, remove sticky, invisible plaque that harbors oral bacteria, and also deep-clean your teeth and gums.

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