What Does A Cavity Look Like?
Cavities are commonly found in the mouths of people who need dental treatment. In certain situations, a thorough and careful examination of the teeth is necessary, and in more complex cases, using x-ray scans is essential for detection. Additionally, we depend on the patient’s symptoms, which serve as valuable clues that direct us to the specific areas to investigate.
A dental cavity often appears as a discolored mark on the tooth, usually in shades of yellow, brown, or black. At first, it may appear as tooth discoloration or slight staining. As cavities progress, the openings become larger and darker. In the end, a small dot can cover almost the entire tooth.
A cavity filling is necessary to restore the tooth’s health and appearance. Choosing professional dental treatment and following a dentist’s advice on cavity prevention, including proper oral care, a balanced diet, and regular check-ups, can effectively prevent further decay and ensure a healthy smile.
What Are Cavities?
Tooth cavities are small openings or gaps that can develop on your teeth. Cavities, also known as dental decay or caries, are caused by a combination of factors including oral bacteria, frequent snacking, excessive consumption of sugary beverages, poor dental hygiene, and infrequent dental check-ups.
The occurrence of cavities is a result of plaque and tartar buildup on the surface of your teeth. Cavities are most commonly found on the molars, which are the back teeth used for chewing, as well as in the spaces between your teeth, where plaque is more likely to accumulate. Cavities can develop near the gum line on the front teeth. Detecting cavities cannot always be done by just looking, so it is important to keep regular dental appointments for thorough cleanings and examinations. Dentists can use specialized tools to detect cavities in their early stages.
What Causes Cavities?
Cavity formation is caused by a three-stage process called progressive tooth decay.
Formation of plaque
Not maintaining good oral hygiene and consuming high amounts of sugars and starches can lead to the formation of plaque on your teeth. This happens when the natural bacteria in your mouth consume these sugars, resulting in the formation of a clear and slightly sticky film. You may have noticed a sticky feeling on your teeth if you haven’t brushed them for a long time.
Once plaque turns into tartar (also known as calculus), it becomes harder to remove. Interestingly, tartar also acts as protection for the bacteria that create plaque. Plaque can shift beneath the gum line, potentially leading to the development of gum disease or periodontitis.
Attack of plaque
The enamel, the outer layer of our teeth, undergoes erosion due to plaque buildup over time. As erosion occurs, small gaps begin to form, indicating the early stages of cavity development. As a result, these gaps provide openings for bacteria and acidic substances in plaque to gradually move towards the dentin. Microscopic channels within the dentin interconnect with the nerves beneath. Therefore, tooth sensitivity often occurs as a notable symptom during the advancement of cavities.
Continue destruction of the tooth
If not taken care of, tooth erosion can advance towards the innermost layer called the pulp, where blood vessels and nerves are located. The pulp can be affected by bacteria, which can cause inflammation and swelling. The swelling causes pressure, resulting in intense nerve pain. At this stage, the pain may also spread to the adjacent tooth’s surrounding bone, either above or below it.
Cavity risk factors
Cavities can have higher chances of occurring in you or your family due to various factors:
- Consuming certain foods and drinks: Certain sticky and sugary foods, like milk, soda, candy, dry cereal, and dried fruits, have a tendency to linger on the teeth without being effectively removed by saliva.
- Consuming carbonated drinks or sweetened beverages throughout the day.
- Frequent snacking
- Bedtime baby bottles and toddler sippy cup drinking: After consumption, sugars can remain on the teeth for an extended period of time.
- Dry mouth and lack of saliva: The condition can be caused by not drinking enough water, undergoing chemotherapy, having certain health conditions, or taking specific medications.
- Very young and very old age
- Insufficient or irregular brushing
- Tooth location: Molars and posterior teeth are more prone to cavities because they are difficult to clean and have more grooves where sugars and plaque can get trapped.
- Inadequate fluoride
- Worn or broken fillings in old cavities
- Acid reflux (AKA GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease): Enamel is at risk when stomach acid flows back into the mouth, causing harm to its surface.
- Eating disorders: Repeated vomiting or insufficient production of saliva can cause tooth decay.
How To Prevent Cavities
Preventing cavities is possible. Adopting various oral health practices can effectively protect your mouth and maintain its optimal condition. By prioritizing your dental hygiene, you can reduce the risk of cavities.
The recommended dental hygiene routine includes brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once daily. Scientific research has confirmed the effectiveness of using fluoride toothpaste in preventing cavities. When brushing, it is important to allocate enough time and avoid rushing through the process. It is recommended to brush your teeth for at least 60 seconds.
How Are Cavities Treated
When a cavity occurs, it is important to seek dental treatment. The idea that cavities can heal or disappear on their own is false, as they can actually worsen and lead to more tooth decay if left untreated. Neglecting cavities can lead to severe toothache and discomfort, but your dentist has the expertise to treat the cavity. The approach to resolving the issue depends on various techniques, which are based on the size, depth, and overall health of the affected tooth.
- Fillings: It is possible to detect cavities at an early stage, enabling their treatment through options such as composite materials, metal, or porcelain fillings.
- Crowns: In cases of advanced tooth decay, the dentist may choose to remove the damaged part of the tooth and create a crown to cover the affected area.
- Root Canal: In cases of extreme severity, it is necessary to completely remove and seal the nerve, blood vessels, and decayed tooth when addressing a dead or damaged root. This treatment, known as a root canal, is necessary.
Maintaining good oral hygiene and promptly informing your dentist about any possible symptoms are important steps in preventing dental cavities. By detecting a cavity early, there is a higher chance of receiving a minimally invasive dental filling instead of a more intrusive treatment.