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What Exactly Is a Cavity?

dentist examine a cavity of a young woman

Noticing a strange sensation in your mouth during your last meal? Or perhaps you’ve been experiencing pain whenever you drink something cold or sweet? These may be signs that you have developed what’s commonly referred to as a cavity.

This article will help you fully understand what a cavity is, how it forms, its symptoms, and the possible treatment options.

What Is a Cavity?

A cavity, sometimes called dental caries or tooth decay, is a hole that develops in a tooth after it gets damaged by bacteria. To answer the question, “What is a cavity in a tooth?” it initially appears as a white spot on the tooth. The first step in the process is the breakdown of dental enamel, the tooth’s hard outer coating, by acids created by plaque, a bacterial coating that is sticky and accumulates on teeth.

If not treated by a dentist, the decay can spread deeper into the tooth, causing significant damage and discomfort and potentially leading to a dental abscess.

How Common Are Cavities?

Cavities are very common. The World Health Organization reports that almost all individuals have at least one dental cavity. Cavities and other oral diseases also affect 60-90% of school-age children. Despite being largely preventable, cavities are one of the most common health problems in the world.

What Causes Cavities?

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Consuming a lot of starchy and sweet foods
  • Lack of fluoride exposure
  • Dry mouth
  • Deep tooth anatomy
  • Skipping regular dental checkups
  • Lack of dental sealants

What Are the Common Symptoms of Cavities?

Tooth Pain and Sensitivity

As cavities progress and erode the tooth structure, they can cause tooth sensitivity and pain. You may experience discomfort or pain when eating or consuming cold, hot, or sweet foods and beverages. This sensitivity occurs when the tooth’s protective enamel is compromised, exposing the underlying nerve endings.

Tooth Infection and Abscess

Untreated cavities can lead to tooth infections and abscesses. When bacteria penetrate deep into the tooth and reach the pulp, an infection can occur. This can cause swelling, severe pain, and the formation of a pocket of pus, known as an abscess. Sometimes, the infection might affect other sections of the body and spread to the surrounding tissues if left untreated.

Tooth Decay Progression

Cavities are a sign of tooth decay. Cavities can keep growing if they are not addressed and progress deeper into the tooth structure. As the decay advances, it may affect the dentin and may eventually reach the innermost layer, known as the pulp. This may result in more serious dental issues and potentially require more invasive treatments.

Tooth Fracture or Breakage

The tooth structure may be weakened by cavities, increasing the risk of fractures. or breakage. The constant pressure from chewing forces, coupled with the compromised integrity of the tooth, can cause it to crack or even break. This can necessitate more extensive dental treatments to restore the tooth’s functionality and appearance.

Tooth Loss

In advanced stages, untreated cavities can result in tooth loss. As the decay continues to damage the tooth structure, it may reach a point where the tooth cannot be salvaged, necessitating extraction. Losing a natural tooth can affect speech, chewing ability, and overall oral health.

Impact on Overall Health

Poor oral health, including untreated cavities, can have implications beyond the mouth. The bacteria present in cavities can enter the bloodstream and potentially contribute to systemic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, and diabetes complications.

How Does Plaque Lead to Cavity Formation?

  • Plaque Formation. Dental plaque is a sticky film that arises because of the germs in the mouth and the teeth. Bacteria combine with saliva and food particles, creating a film that adheres to the tooth surfaces.
  • Plaque Attacks. Bacteria in the plaque use sugars and carbohydrates from foods and drinks to produce acids. The tooth enamel, which is the teeth’s outer layer of protection, is attacked by these acids.
  • Damage to Enamel. As the acids continue to attack the tooth enamel, they erode and weaken it, causing demineralization. This process leads to the formation of small holes or openings in the enamel, which are the beginnings of cavities.
  • Enamel Breakdown. Over time, if the decay process goes untreated, the enamel is still being broken down by the acid. Progressing deeper into the tooth layers, including the dentin, and potentially reaching the pulp.
  • Cavity Formation. When the decay penetrates the tooth’s internal layers, a cavity forms; at this stage, the damage is irreversible, and the cavity requires dental intervention to prevent further progression and preserve the tooth.

What Are the Treatment Options for Cavities?

Fluoride Treatment

Professional fluoride treatments should be used when tooth decay is still in its early stages. During these procedures, the teeth are treated with a highly concentrated fluoride solution, which helps to remineralize and strengthen the tooth enamel, potentially reversing early cavities.

Dental Fillings

The most typical method of treating cavities is extracting and replacing the decayed tooth material with suitable materials. This is typically done using dental fillings, such as amalgam fillings or tooth-colored composite resin fillings. Fillings restore the form and function of the tooth while preventing further decay.

Dental Crowns

When a cavity is extensive and has resulted in considerable harm to the tooth’s structure, a dental crown might be required. A crown is a specially-made cap that completely encloses the tooth, restoring its shape, strength, and appearance. It protects and supports the remaining tooth structure and prevents further decay.

Root Canal Treatment

A root canal treatment can be necessary if the decay has gotten to the tooth’s inner pulp. The diseased or damaged pulp is removed during this procedure, and the root canals are then filled, cleansed, and disinfected. In addition to preventing the loss of the original tooth, root canal therapy reduces pain and infection brought on by deep cavities.

Tooth Extraction

Extraction may be the only option when a tooth cannot be repaired due to extensive decay. Extracting a tooth entails taking the damaged tooth out of its socket. Following tooth extraction, dental implants, bridges, or dentures are among the tooth replacement options that might be taken into consideration.

How to Prevent Cavities

  • Brush With Fluoride Toothpaste. Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth at least twice a day. Fluoride fortifies dental enamel and guards against deterioration. Always remember to brush every surface of your teeth, even the difficult-to-reach places, with a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Floss Daily. Regular flossing is essential to help clean the gum line and the spaces between your teeth of plaque and food debris. This aids in preventing cavities from forming in those areas that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush.
  • Limit Sugary Drinks and Acidic Foods. Reduce your consumption of sugary foods, snacks, beverages, candies, and acidic foods and drinks like sodas and citrus fruits. These can contribute to acid formation and erosion of tooth enamel. Instead, opt for healthier choices like vegetables, fresh fruits, and water.
  • Practice Healthy Eating Habits. A well-balanced, vitamin-and mineral-rich diet supports healthy teeth and gums. Incorporate foods like dairy products, lean proteins, whole grains, and fibrous fruits and vegetables into your meals. These foods help maintain a healthy oral environment and promote saliva production, which neutralizes acids and aids in remineralization.
  • Drink Tap Water. Many public water supplies contain fluoride, which helps fight tooth decay. Drinking tap water, especially when it is fluoridated, can provide an extra boost of fluoride for your teeth. If you primarily drink bottled water, consider talking to your dentist about fluoride supplementation.
  • Visit Your Dentist Regularly. Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings are performed every six months or as prescribed by your dentist. These visits enable your dentist to spot and treat any early signs of decay, remove plaque and tartar, and provide professional fluoride treatments and dental sealants.
  • Consider Dental Sealants. Dental sealants are protective coatings put on chewing surfaces of the back teeth. They provide an extra layer of defense against cavity-causing bacteria and help prevent decay in the deep grooves and pits of the teeth.

Defend Your Teeth From Decay With Discovery Dental Today

A cavity that can lead to significant damage and discomfort if not treated promptly. Thankfully, knowing and understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for cavities can empower you to take control of your oral health. Remember that prevention is crucial, and maintaining an excellent oral hygiene routine can go a long way in keeping your teeth cavity-free.

At Discovery Dental, we are committed to providing exceptional dental care and educating our patients about their oral health. Our team of highly skilled dental professionals can help diagnose cavities in their early stages, provide powerful treatment options, and share preventive measures to protect your smile. We believe that everyone deserves a healthy and beautiful smile for life.

Don’t wait for a cavity to cause discomfort. Make an appointment with Discovery Dental today—your teeth will thank you!