Tooth decay can affect both the outer coating of a tooth (the enamel) and the inner layer (the dentin), and it can ultimately lead to cavities, or dental caries. Children and adults alike can suffer from cavities. While children are susceptible to the damaging effects of sugary foods on teeth, adults can experience tooth decay as well. Older adults can sometimes experience tooth decay around the edges of fillings. When fillings weaken over time, bacteria can creep into the gaps and cause cavities.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TOOTH CAVITIES
When a cavity is just beginning, you may not have symptoms at all. However, depending on the size and extent of the cavity, it may cause symptoms such as:
- Visible holes in your teeth
- Pain when chewing or biting down
- Tooth sensitivity
- Stains on any surface of a tooth
- Toothache, or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
If left too long, dental caries can cause a host of further issues, including tooth abscesses, chewing problems, shifting teeth, broken teeth or even swelling or pus around a tooth.
Causes of Dental Caries
Foods, bacteria and acids cause tooth decay or tooth damage. Foods with high carbohydrate content — cereal, milk, soda, bread, chips, fruit, ice cream, honey, sugar, mints and hard candy and cake — cause bacteria buildup in your mouth and create tooth-dissolving acids. Bacteria, acid, food debris and saliva combine to form plaque, a soft, sticky film that builds up on your teeth. The bacteria in plaque use the sugar and starch in what you consume to make acids.
The acids then dissolve your enamel and can harden into tartar over time. This damage can create holes or cavities. Once the enamel has deteriorated, bacteria can reach the dentin, the next layer of your teeth. Because dentin is much softer than enamel and less resistant to acid, it’s exposure to bacteria can cause sensitivity. After making contact with dentin, bacteria will continue to the inner tooth material (pulp) of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels.
At this point, the resulting inflammation has nowhere to expand. This causes pressed nerves, pain and discomfort beyond the outside of the tooth. Other factors that can increase the risk of developing tooth caries include:
- Tooth location
- Inadequate brushing
- Not using enough fluoride
- Dry mouth
- Worn dental devices
- Eating disorders
How to Treat Your Tooth Cavities
To spot a cavity, your dentist will use X-rays to check between your teeth and check for soft spots. Our team at Gateway Dentistry Group uses the following procedures to combat tooth decay and cavities:
- Fillings: If tooth decay is minimal, a dentist will remove the decayed portion of your tooth with a drill and then seal up the hole with a filling. We only use safe materials to do this — such as silver alloy or a composite resin.
- Crowns: When a tooth is more severely damaged, a dentist may place a crown or a “cap” over the decayed area. Your dentist will remove and repair the damaged part of the tooth and then fit a crown over the remaining portion. Dental crowns are an efficient way to restore your teeth to their natural appearance.
- Root canals: If the root or pulp of your tooth is damaged in a way that cannot be repaired, a root canal may be necessary. Your dentist will remove the decayed portions of the tooth along with the tissue, nerve and blood vessels. The dentist will then fill in the roots with a sealant and may or may not use a crown to cover the filled tooth. Sealants can be just as effective as fillings in preventing tooth decay.
- Fluoride treatments: In some cases, fluoride can reverse a newly formed cavity if caught early enough.
- Tooth extractions: Sometimes, it is necessary to pull a tooth if it has excessive decay.
To prevent the onset of dental cavities, we recommend rinsing your mouth regularly with fluoride mouthwash before and after brushing. You can also use fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day and visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and regular oral exams. If you drink mostly bottled water, try to integrate more tap water into your routine. Tap water often contains fluoride, which can significantly reduce tooth decay. Also, we recommend eating more fruits and vegetables because they increase saliva flow.
Sugar-free gum and other sugar-free drinks can also help wash away food particles, so they don’t end up stuck to your teeth between brushings.