Ultimate Guide to Dental Cavities: Why You Get Them and the Dental Treatment

Cavities are common worldwide. Learn why you get them and how to avoid them.

Watch what you eat, and how you clean the teeth

Tooth decay, a very degenerative yet very common dental health condition, occurs when long periods of neglected oral health leads to damage in tooth enamel. The erosion of teeth leads to holes in them, which are referred to as ‘cavities’ or dental caries. The prime reason for tooth cavity is poor oral hygiene habits, dietary choices, and dental neglect.

When we consume food that is high in sugar and starch content, the particles are left on the surface of the teeth, forming a thick layer of plaque and tartar. Plaque combines with bacteria that lives inside the mouth to produce acid, which then becomes the cause of rotten teeth.


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What are cavities or dental caries? Who can get them?

A cavity or dental caries is the damage to the teeth that is caused by tooth decay. If you are wondering what does a cavity look like, it's really just a hole in tooth in it's basic form. Decay can damage the enamel, which is the outer coating of the teeth, and dentin, the inner layer.

Cavities usually start small and if left untreated, become bigger. Contrary to popular belief, dental caries may even be painless in the beginning hence it's difficult to detect them. However, dentists are able to detect the issue quite easily so the way to save your teeth is regular dentist visits.

Getting a tooth cavity is one of the most common dental health problems across the globe. Anyone in any age group having teeth can develop cavities. Tooth decay in children is common mainly due to poor dietary habits and not adopting a proper oral hygiene routine from the start, including proper brushing technique.


What are the symptoms of dental cavities?

The pain that tooth decay causes depends on which part of the teeth is affected and how much is the damage. If the cavity exists in enamel, it causes no significant pain. If you are experiencing pain due to tooth cavity, it has most likely reached the dentin.

Initially, people only experience the pain while eating due to hot or cold food, sweets, or beverages. If you are only getting it then, it indicates that the inflammation only exists in the pulp and is reversible. If the dentist starts the treatment at this stage of dental caries, the tooth can be saved no further pain is caused.

If the tooth cavity has already reached the pulp, the damage is irreversible and a root canal or pulpotomy is probably needed. It doesn't necessarily mean you have rotten teeth though. In this case, the pain even exists without stimuli (like cold water) and the patient can experience sudden or spontaneous toothache.

The infection caused by tooth cavity produces periapical abscess or pus, which causes severe pain. The more advanced the tooth decay is, the more your cavity is going to hurt.


What are the root causes of cavities and what are the risk factors?

Everyone has bacteria that naturally live inside their mouth. After you consume foods with sugar, the bacteria in the mouth turns the sugar into acid. As soon as you consume something with a high sugar content, plaque formation starts. To avoid dental caries, especially cavities in kids, it is imperative to develop a habit of brushing at an early age.

Enamel is the outer protective layer that protects teeth against any external damage. When plaque sticks to the teeth, the acid slowly erodes the enamel, causing hole in tooth or tooth cavity. As the cavity matures, the damage increases, weakening the teeth permanently.

As said before, everyone with teeth is prone to tooth decay at some point in life. However, there are certain risk factors that makes one more susceptible to developing tooth cavity:

The location of the teeth Tooth decay mostly occurs in molars and premolars, or in other words, the back teeth. As these teeth have a lot of pits and grooves, these teeth collect food particles and due to their placement, it is hard to get rid of them with brushing. Due to this reason, the plaque forms on them, as they are not as easily accessible as the front teeth while cleaning.

Foods and drinks with high sugar content The most common cause of cavities, particularly tooth decay in children, is consumption of sugary foods. These include milk, sweets, carbonated drinks, cake, dried fruits, chips, cereal, etc. These foods cling on to the teeth, and hence are difficult to clean. Sipping sweet drinks often can lead to increased acid production inside the mouth, causing damage to the teeth.

Infant feeding at the bedtime When kids are given milk, or other sugar containing liquids at bed time, the food content can linger on the teeth for hours while sleeping, feeding the bacteria inside the mouth, giving birth to cavities in children. This damage is referred to as ‘baby bottle tooth decay’.

Neglecting dental health and not getting adequate fluoride Being mindful of dental hygiene is the only way to avoid dental caries. Proper cleaning regimen, dentist visits and brushing can get rid of plaque, saving your tooth.

Another reason for developing cavities is not getting enough fluoride. Fluoride, which is a naturally occurring mineral, can help in reversing the damage at the earliest stage. As it has a great role to play in health, fluoride is a common ingredient in mouth rinses and toothpastes.

Risk factors for tooth decay Age factor can play a part Cavities are particularly common in young kids and teenagers. Similarly, older adults are also at a high risk of developing tooth cavity. In the later age, the gums may recede, becoming more vulnerable.

Dry mouth or not production of enough saliva Saliva helps in preventing tooth decay, as it washes away food particles from plaque. Substances found in the saliva also play a part in acid production by bacteria. Dry mouth, which can happen due to a number of medical conditions, radiation to the neck or head, or certain chemotherapy drugs, can also lead to tooth decay.

Worn out dental fillings or devices Dental fillings can easily break down over the years, developing rough edges. This allows the plaque to build up and it is more difficult to remove as well. Similarly, dental devices might also stop fitting, leading to tooth decay.

Heartburn causing acid reflux in mouth Heartburn, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), may also lead to dental caries. The medical condition can lead the acid to flow inside your mouth, causing damage to the teeth. This can expose more dentin, leading to hole in tooth. In such a case, your dentist is most likely to recommend you to a specialist.

Eating disorders Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia can also lead to cavities or tooth erosion. Stomach acid, which can reach the mouth due to excessive vomiting, repeatedly washes the teeth, causing dissolution of the enamel. The eating disorders can even interfere with saliva production as well.


Treatments for tooth decay and dental caries

When starting the treatment for cavities, the first step is telling your dentist about what you’re experiencing. Have a detailed discussion about pain and sensitivity. The dentist can identify signs of tooth decay in the initial oral examinations in most cases. However, in some cases, the diagnosis might require x-rays.

You also need to tell the doctor regarding any painful symptoms such as tooth pain and sensitivity so the diagnosis can be more accurate. The severity can determine the treatment selections. There are various ways of treating a cavity:

Tooth fillings A cavity dental filling is performed by using a drill that extracts the decayed material from the teeth. The teeth are then filled with a substance such as composite resin, but you can also choose other material available.

Crowns For a more severe tooth decay condition, a dentist will start by eliminating the decayed tooth material. A custom-made cap is then placed on the tooth to change its natural crown.

Root canal A root canal is a medical treatment, and is performed when dental caries result in the nerves' death. This treatment is executed to save the teeth. The nerve tissues are removed along with any degraded areas and the blood vessel tissues.

The mouth is then scanned for any infection, which is followed by medication to the roots. The final step is filling the tooth, and in some instances, they might place a crown on it.

Early-stage treatment Tooth decays and rotten teeth can result in discomfort and pain. Tooth decay in children is also very common, which might affect their overall wellbeing. You might have to search for ways to relieve tooth irritation while waiting for the dentist's appointment.

The following are some of the ways that you can deal temporarily with the discomfort:

  • Maintain a good oral hygiene routine. It includes brushing and cleaning all parts of the mouth, consisting of the sensitive areas
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers that can be used. However, you should always ask for your doctor's suggestion before taking any medication
  • Ignoring cold and hot foods when drinking and eating can help you as well, instead going for room temperature foods and liquids.

What are the complications that might occur due to cavities?

Some complications of dental caries include:

  • Tooth swelling
  • Pain
  • Damaged teeth
  • Swelling and pus around the tooth
  • Chewing problems
  • Increased tooth sensitivity
  • Placing alterations of teeth next to a tooth loss

When the conditions gets even worse, you may encounter:

  • Continuous, unbearable pain
  • Weight loss, loss of appetite, and diet problems due to difficult and painful chewing
  • Tooth loss, which impacts the appearance
  • In rare cases, tooth abscess has also been witnessed. It is a pus pocket that is produced due to bacterial infection.

What are some ways to prevent cavities?

Good oral health is the key to avoiding tooth decay and cavities, or the sight of a hole in your tooth when you place a mirror to your mouth.

The following are some of the tips that can prevent the need of a cavity dental filling. You can also ask your dentist which information would be best for you:

  • Fluoride toothpaste is very effective. Brushing at least twice each day after eating, and flossing afterward, can help you maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Rinsing your mouth might seem ordinary, but it is beneficial. In case of cavities, you may need to rinse your mouth with fluoride if suggested by the dentist
  • Regular dentist visits are essential. You can get continuous oral examinations and professional teeth cleaning allow you to spot and treat the problems before they can serious. Get a routine oral exam once every 6 months
  • A dental sealant is a protective coating made with plastic used on the back teeth' chewing area. It provides defense against notches and grooves that gather food, shielding against enamel from acid and plaque. You can use it as an added measure, but they need regular checking
  • Drinking water with added fluoride can help reduce tooth decay. You can drink tap water, which has a higher fluoride composition, to get the benefits.
  • Sipping and snacking is a major cause of tooth decay. Soft drinks assist the bacteria in your mouth in creating acids that destroy the tooth enamel.
  • Antibacterial treatments for people who are exposed to tooth decay are an excellent choice. They help in cutting down the harmful bacteria within the mouth.
  • Prescription fluoride, antibacterial rinse, and chewing xylitol-based gum can do a good job in reducing the chances of a cavity.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How does fluoride assist in avoiding cavities?

Fluoride is a mineral that provides prevention against tooth decay and helps you avoid painful cavity treatment. It stops the bacteria from growing or even reverse in its early stages. It works by: - Preventing loss of minerals within the tooth enamel and substitutes lost minerals - Stopping bacteria from producing acids

Fluoride can be attained by: 1. Drinking water with a high fluoride content commonly it can be found in community water supplies 2. Using a fluoride toothpaste while brushing.

If a dentist feels that you need more fluoride, they may:

  • Use a varnish or fluoride gel on the tooth surfaces
  • Recommend fluoride tablets
  • Prescribe mouthwash that contains fluoride

How does a cavity form?

Cavities are formed when teeth are frequently exposed to acid, while drinking and eating unhealthy foods containing starches and sugar. Due to the frequent series of acid attacks resulting in the enamel's continuous loss of minerals, a white spot emerges at the areas where mineral losses occur, indicating early decay.

At this stage, the tooth decay can be reversed and stopped. Enamel repairs itself through minerals from saliva and, if enough, fluoride reaches it.

However, if the process continues, minerals keep losing. Continuous exposure makes the enamel weaker and ultimately destroys it, thus creating a cavity. A cavity is permanent damage that a dentist would have to repair.

How to check for cavities?

These include:

• Increased tooth sensitivity • Moderate to sharp pain during eating or drinking something that is either hot, cold, or sweet • Toothache • Pain when biting • Apparent pits or holes inside your teeth • Black, brown, or white stains on tooth surfaces.

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Find dentists near you and book your next appointment online