Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface or enamel of your teeth. They develop into tiny holes or openings. Tooth cavity is also called tooth decay or caries. It is caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, sipping sugary drinks, frequent snacking, dry mouth, and not cleaning your teeth well.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common dental problems. They are prevalent in children, teenagers, and older adults. Anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants.
What is Tooth Cavity?
A cavity, also called tooth decay, is a hole formed in your tooth. Cavities start small and gradually become bigger if left untreated. Because cavities generally do not cause tooth pain in the beginning. Hence it can be hard to identify that a problem exists. During your regular dental appointments, your dentist can detect tooth decay at an early stage.
According to stats, cavities and tooth decay are some of the common dental problems in the world. If you have teeth, you are likely to develop cavities, including babies.
Finding out that you have a cavity might surprise you at times. This is especially true if you think you follow a good oral hygiene routine. However, even if your dentist gives you this bad news, do not worry. There are ways to treat a cavity and prevent new ones from forming.
How Common is Tooth Cavity?
Surprisingly more than 80% of people have at least one cavity by the time they enter their 30s. Today cavities are one of the most common chronic dental diseases that affect people of all ages. Even babies can have cavities in their milk teeth.
Who might get a cavity? Your tooth decay can happen at any age, although cavities are more common in children. Probably because they do not brush their teeth properly and eat more sugary foods and drinks.
Adults also have a high chance of getting cavities. Sometimes, new decay develops just adjacent to the edges of cavities that might have been treated in childhood. As adults, you are more likely to have receding gums. This condition could expose the lower parts of teeth to cavity-causing plaque. Plaque on teeth can be a lifetime problem and might have severe consequences on your oral health.
Dental cavities are holes in your teeth that form when the acid in your mouth erodes your tooth enamel. Untreated cavities can be harmful as it leads to toothaches, infection and even tooth extractions. Individuals of all ages get cavities.
You should follow good dental care that includes brushing, flossing, and regular dental checkups. These preventive steps can prevent tooth decay. Cavities are also called dental caries.
What are the Types of Tooth Cavity?
Tooth cavity and decay can affect all layers of a tooth. Surprisingly it can take roughly three years for a cavity to form a hole in the solid outer layer of your tooth enamel. But your decay progresses more quickly through the dentin or the middle layer to the pulp or innermost layer. The pulp contains your tooth’s nerve endings and blood supply. Types of tooth decay include:
Smooth surface: The slow-growing cavity dissolves the hard tooth enamel. You can prevent it and at times, can reverse it with proper flossing, brushing, and dental cleanings. If you are in your 20s, you can develop this form of tooth decay between your teeth.
Pit and fissure decay: Tooth cavities can also form on the top part of your tooth’s chewing surface. Decay also can affect the front sides of the teeth located at the back. Pit and fissure decay generally tends to start during the teenage years and progresses very fast.
Root decay: Root decay is often noticeable in older adults who have receding gums. They are more prone to root decay because the gum recession exposes your tooth’s root to acid and plaque. Root decay is difficult to prevent and also treat.
What Causes Tooth Cavity?
Many factors play a role in the development of cavities. Your tooth cavities are caused by tooth decay, a slow process that occurs over time. Here is how tooth decay develops:
1 Plaque forms.
Dental plaque is a sticky film that coats your teeth. It is due to eating a lot of sugars and starchy food and cleaning your teeth well. When sugars are not cleaned off your teeth, bacteria quickly start to feed on them and form plaque.
Bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar, starchy foods, and drinks (candy, fruit, bread, cereal, sodas, juice, and milk). The bacteria convert these carbohydrates into acids.
Plaque that stays for long on your teeth can harden just under or above your gum line into tartar or calculus. Tartar makes the plaque more difficult to remove and creates a shield for bacteria on your teeth’ surface.
2 Plaque attacks.
Do you know that plaque is acidic? The acids in plaque remove minerals from your tooth’s hard, outer enamel. This slow erosion leads to the formation of tiny openings or holes in the enamel. This is the first stage of cavities. Without proper flossing and brushing, acids in plaque dissolve your tooth enamel to create cavities.
Once portions of the enamel are worn away, the acid and bacteria can reach the next layer of your teeth, known as dentin. This layer is softer than enamel and less resistant to acid. Tiny tubes are present in the dentin that directly communicate with the nerve of the tooth, causing sensitivity.
3 Destruction continues.
As tooth decay develops and advances the bacteria and acid continue their journey through your teeth, moving next to the inner layer called the pulp. When the decay reaches the pulp, it affects your nerves and blood vessels.
As a result, the pulp becomes swollen and irritated from the bacteria. As there is no place for the swelling to expand inside a tooth, your tooth’s nerves become pressed, causing pain. Discomfort can even extend outside of your tooth root to the bone.
How is Tooth Cavity Managed or Treated?
Your dentist will decide the treatment depending on the severity of your tooth decay. Cavity treatments include:
Fluoride: If your decay is caught early, fluoride treatments can repair your tooth enamel. This process is called remineralization. Your dentist might prescribe mouthwash and toothpaste, as well as fluoride treatments at the dental clinic.
Fillings: Once a hole forms in your tooth, your dentist will drill out the decayed material and fill the hole with dental fillings. Dental fillings are generally made of silver amalgam, composite resin, or even gold. However, some people have raised concerns about mercury based fillings called amalgams. But the American Dental Association, and other public health agencies say they are safe to use.
Root canal: A root canal can treat pain from root decay. Endodontists are dental specialists who are experts in treating problems that affect your tooth’s root. During a root canal, this healthcare provider removes the pulp that contains nerve endings that cause pain.
Tooth extraction: If your dentist feels that a root canal is impossible, your dentist might extract or pull the tooth. In such a scenario, you might need a dental implant to replace an extracted permanent tooth. Implants will help keep your teeth from shifting and changing your appearance and bite.
Prevention of Tooth Cavity
Good oral and dental hygiene can go a long way in avoiding cavities and tooth decay. Here are a few tips to help prevent cavities. Discuss with your dentist which tips are best for you.
Brush with fluoride toothpaste after meals.
You should brush your teeth at least twice a day and ideally after every meal. Preferably use fluoride-containing toothpaste. To clean the food stuck between your teeth, floss or use an interdental cleaner.
Rinse your mouth.
If your dentist feels you have a high risk of developing tooth cavities, they might recommend using a mouth rinse with fluoride.
Visit your dentist regularly.
You should get professional teeth cleanings and regular oral exams done periodically. It helps prevent issues or spot them early.
Consider dental sealants.
A sealant is a protective plastic coating your dentist will apply to the chewing surface of your back teeth. It seals off grooves and crannies that tend to collect the food particles.
This is helpful in protecting your tooth enamel from plaque and acid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of sealants for all school-age children. Once applied, sealants might last for several years before they need to be replaced.
Drink some tap water.
Most public water supplies contain added fluoride, which can help reduce tooth decay significantly. If you continually drink bottled water that does not contain fluoride, you will miss out on fluoride benefits.
Avoid frequent snacking and sipping.
Whenever you are eating or drinking beverages other than water, you help your mouth bacteria create acids that can destroy tooth enamel. If you drink or snack throughout the day, your teeth are under constant bacteria attack.
Eat tooth-healthy foods.
Choosing foods and beverages is better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in the grooves of your teeth for long periods, or try brushing soon after eating them.
However, foods like fresh fruits and vegetables increase saliva flow, and unsweetened tea, coffee, and sugar-free gum help wash away food particles.
Consider fluoride treatments.
Your dentist may recommend periodic fluoride treatments. This is all the more important if you are not getting enough fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and other sources.
Good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are key to preventing cavities. The advancement of dental treatments, including fluoride rinses and dental sealants, have lowered cavity risk in teens and children.
As an adult, if you have dental fillings from your childhood, you might develop cavities around the edges of your old fillings. Cavities can also develop in the roots that are exposed from receding gums. Ask your dentist about steps you can take to protect your oral health and prevent cavities.