The Beginner’s Guide to Dental Cavities: Here’s All You Need to Know

The Beginner’s Guide to Dental Cavities: Here’s All You Need to Know

Jan 01, 2021

Are your teeth sensitive when you eat foods, especially sweet foods? Are you feeling pain when biting or chewing food? If so, then you are exhibiting the classic signs of a tooth cavity. It is likely time for you to visit our Dallas dentist, Dr. Amber James, for treatment.

Cavities can be a nuisance and are the leading causes of tooth loss. They are brought about by several factors, including poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, diet, and frequency of snacking. The good news is that cavities are preventable, and when present they are also easily treated.

Dental Cavities, In a Nutshell

So, what are dental cavities? Cavities are an area of the tooth where the enamel and likely the inner layer of dentin are permanently damaged. Typically, this begins to manifest as a dark spot or discoloration on the tooth. Over time as the damage or decay gets worse, this discoloration will turn into a visible hole in the tooth. When cavities are small they are typically completely asymptomatic and the patient feels nothing. As they worsen, patients start to feel sharp pain when eating and chewing food.

How Does a Cavity Form?

Your mouth is a small ecosystem that houses countless bacteria. Bacteria form a sticky biofilm on the surface of your teeth that is commonly known as plaque. These bacteria survive off of sugars in the food and liquids that you consume. As the bacteria breakdown the sugars from the foods we consume, they produce acid. These acids dissolve the hard outer part of your teeth, causing dental caries, otherwise known as cavities.

Tooth decay typically occurs on parts of your teeth that cause plaque to accumulate easily, such as grooves on the biting surfaces of teeth, next to the gum line, and in between teeth.

What Are the Symptoms of Cavities?

Cavities don’t suddenly appear overnight. It can take months before the plaque, bacteria and acids will cause enough destruction to produce a dental cavity. Often when people are told that they have a cavity they think, “My teeth, don’t hurt! Are you sure I have a cavity”? The answer is, yes! In the early stages of cavity formation you will not feel anything, and this is the best time to treat the decay. If you don’t have any symptoms, the decay likely has not progressed very far and can be treated with a simple small filling. Once the decay gets to the point that you are feeling pain when you eat sweets or drink something cold, that decay has likely progressed to the point where it has infected a large part of the inner, dentin, layer of the tooth or even further into the pulp (nerve) of the tooth. At this point, you will likely need a very large filling, crown or even root canal. Here are some of the symptoms that you can expect:

  • White or black staining on your teeth
  • Toothache when eating something sweet, cold or hot.
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Visible holes on your teeth
  • Toothache that seems to occur without a cause

How Are Cavities Treated?

The treatment option will depend on the severity of tooth decay. However, some of the ways that cavities can be treated are:

  • Dental fillings: The decayed part of the tooth is removed using a dental drill. The hole is then filled with composite resin fillings made from a glass or quartz filler added to a resin medium.
  • Crowns: If the tooth decay is more severe, then a dental crown can be used. The decayed sections of the tooth are removed and a ceramic or zirconia cap is placed on the tooth.
  • Root canal therapy: A root canal is necessary when the decay has extended through the enamel and the dentin into the pulp or nerve of the tooth. The decay causes an infection in the nerve of the tooth resulting in immense pain. At this point, the nerve must be removed and the inner layer needs to be sanitized with root canal therapy.

Prevention of Tooth Decay

Prevention of dental cavities is possible. Here are some tips:

  • Consider getting sealants to prevent plaque buildup in the pits and fissures on the biting surfaces of teeth.
  • Reduce your snacking between meals.
  • Eat less acidic and sugary foods like candy, soda, and refined carbohydrates.
  • Brush your teeth each day after meals.
  • Floss each day to remove food debris that is stuck between teeth.
  • Receive regular dental exams and cleaning.
  • Consider using a fluoridated mouthwash, such as ACT.
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