Prosthodontics, Implants, Cosmetic & Reconstructive Dentistry

What are Cavities and Why You Should Take Care of Them

Developing a dental cavity is like punishment for forgetting to brush and floss your teeth for a few days or eating snacks every other weekend. It’s usually discouraging when you’re doing everything right with minimal exceptions, but once you visit the dentist, he/she diagnoses you with a cavity. Understanding how cavities develop, their causes, and effects are valuable in knowing how we can prevent them and why we should take care of them early enough when they arise.

What Cavities Are

A cavity is also known as tooth decay or dental caries. It’s a hole or tiny opening that forms in your teeth. A cavity starts small and gradually becomes bigger when left untreated, affecting deeper layers of the teeth. They may lead to tooth loss, infection, and severe toothache. Since most cavities do not cause pain at their earlier stage of formation, you may not realize that you have them. Regular visits to your dentist can detect cavities early.

Per Mayo Clinic, dental caries are among the most prevalent health problems in the world. Any person with teeth could suffer from tooth decay, including infants, but it’s particularly prevalent in teenagers, older adults, and children.

You may be surprised after learning that you’ve developed tooth decay.  This is particularly true if all along you have been practicing the recommended oral hygiene routine. But even if you find out you have cavities, there are several treatment options and means to prevent others from forming.

Types of Dental Cavities

The three types of cavities are:

  1. Smooth Surface or Occlusal Cavities— Occlusal cavities only affect the enamel. They commonly develop on molars since they’re harder to brush, thus easier to leave bacteria behind. They’re the slowest to form compared to the other two and the least common. Even though they are not prevalent, these cavities can cause problems for persons who do not practice good oral and dental hygiene.
  2. Pit and Fissure Cavities— These types of cavities commonly affect the deep grooves on molars. They develop on the teeth chewing surfaces. Because it is easy for food and plaque to stick in the grooves and crevices on teeth surfaces, pit and fissure cavities are prevalent, particularly in people who do not brush as often as they ought to. This is because, with time, the plaque and food particles start decaying, resulting in cavities.
  3. Root Cavities— Root cavities occur on the tooth root surface. They’re more prevalent in older adults, especially seniors who have developed gum disorders such as receding gums. When your gums recede, the tissues surrounding the tooth are much lower on the tooth, and the root surface becomes exposed, leaving them more vulnerable to erosive acids from bacteria, your diet, and decay. A root cavity develops faster than the other two types.

Causes of Cavities

Tooth decay occurs as a result of plaque, which is a sticky film that forms on teeth. Plaque comprises food particles, acid, bacteria, and saliva. Everybody has mouth bacteria. After drinking or eating food with carbohydrates and sugars, mouth bacteria convert the sugar and starch into acid. Plaque begins to form on your teeth right after drinking or eating anything starchy or sugary. That’s why you should brush your teeth regularly.

Plaque sticks on your teeth and the acid in it starts to erode the enamel gradually. As the enamel becomes weak, the risk of developing cavities increases.

Signs and Symptoms of Cavity

For you to know you have dental caries, look out for these signs and symptoms:

  • Tooth sensitivity.
  • Toothache, spontaneous/pain that occurs with no apparent cause.
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth.
  • Pain that ranges from mild to sharp when drinking something cold, hot, or sweet.
  • Pain whenever you bite down.
  • White, brown, or black stains on any tooth surface.
  • Chronic bad breath.
  • A foul taste in your mouth.
  • Swelling of the gums around that tooth.
  • Painful chewing.

These signs and symptoms vary based on the location and extent of the cavity. When you are just beginning to develop tooth decay, you might not experience any symptoms whatsoever. But as the cavity grows bigger, you may start having the above symptoms.

Risk Factors for Cavities

Everyone with teeth faces the risk of developing dental caries. However, these factors can heighten the risk even more:

  • Certain drinks and foods— Foods that stick on the teeth for an extended period, such as ice cream, milk, sugar, dried fruit, soda, honey, cookies, cake, hard mints and candy, chips, and dry cereal, are highly likely to lead to tooth decay than those that are washed down by saliva.
  • Tooth location— Dental caries most often develop on premolars and molars since they have numerous pits, grooves, multiple roots, and crannies that can harbor food particles. Consequently, they are harder to clean than the easy-to-access, smoother front teeth.
  • Frequent sipping and snacking— If you steadily sip sugar-containing drinks or eat snacks, you give the bacteria in the mouth more energy to generate acids that erode the teeth. And sipping acidic beverages like soda all through the day creates a constant acid bath on your teeth.
  • Inadequate brushing— Failure to brush your teeth right after drinking and brushing will make plaque form rapidly, and the initial stages of cavity development can begin.
  • Bedtime baby feeding— When you give your baby bedtime bottles of milk, juice, formula, or any other sugary liquid, the beverages stay on his/her teeth for several hours while he/she sleeps. These beverages feed cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Older or younger age— In the U.S, cavities are prevalent in teenagers and very young minors. Senior adults are also at a higher risk. With time, teeth may start wearing off and gums receding, making teeth highly susceptible to root cavities. Older adults may also use medications that minimize saliva flow, and these drugs increase the risk of dental caries.
  • Worn dental fillings and dental devices— With time, dental fillings may weaken, develop rough edges, or start breaking down. This gives room for easy plaque build-up. It also becomes more difficult to remove the plaque. Dental devices may stop fitting properly, allowing caries to develop underneath them.
  • Eating disorders— Bulimia and anorexia can result in cavities and substantial tooth erosion. Stomach acid resulting from purging (repeated vomiting) washes over the teeth and dissolves the tooth enamel. Eating disorders may also interfere with saliva production.
  • Lack of adequate fluoride— Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral. It helps prevent caries and can reverse the initial tooth damage stages. Due to how beneficial it is for the teeth, it’s usually added to most public water supplies. It is also a common ingredient in mouth rinses and toothpaste. However, bottled water usually doesn’t contain fluoride.
  • Heartburn— GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or heartburn can make stomach acid flow up to your mouth, wearing off the enamel and leading to substantial tooth damage. When the enamel wears away, it exposes the dentin to bacterial attacks, creating cavities. Your dental specialist can suggest that you consult your physician to determine if GERD is why your enamel is wearing off.
  • Dry mouth— The dry mouth condition arises due to a lack of saliva. Remember, saliva helps prevent cavity development by washing down plaque and food from the teeth. It also contains substances that help reverse the effect of the bacteria-generated acid. Radiation to your neck or head, certain medications, particular chemo drugs, or given medical conditions can increase the risk of cavity formation by lowering saliva production.

Treatment for Cavities

Regular check-ups can identify caries and any other dental condition before it causes troubling symptoms or results in more severe problems. The earlier you care for tooth decay, the higher your chances are to reverse its initial stages and avert its progression. If you treat a cavity before it begins causing pain, chances are you will not require extensive and expensive treatment. How you treat your caries depends on their severity and your specific situation. Options include:

Root canals— If the decay has spread to the pulp, you may have to undergo a root canal procedure to repair and save the infected or badly damaged tooth rather than extracting it. The affected pulp is extracted. Sometimes, medication is placed in the root canal to eliminate any infection. The pulp is then replaced with a filling.

Crowns— For weakened teeth or extensive decay, you may require a dental crown/cap. This is a custom-fitted covering that replaces the tooth’s whole natural crown. The dentist drills off all the damaged areas and fits the crown. Crowns come in different materials, including gold, resin, porcelain, etc.

Fillings— Fillings are also called restorations. They’re the primary treatment option if cavities have progressed past the earliest stages. Fillings come in different materials like tooth-colored composite resins and dental or porcelain amalgam that combines several materials.

Fluoride treatments— If your dental caries are just starting, a fluoride treatment can help restore the enamel and reverse the cavity if it’s in the very early stages. Professional fluoride-based treatments have more fluoride compared to the amount you can find in toothpaste, mouth rinses, and tap water. Fluoride treatments might be gel, liquid, varnish, or foam that’s brushed on your teeth or put in a smaller tray that fits over the teeth.

Cutting Treatment Costs By Practicing Prevention Measures

Good dental and oral hygiene come in handy as far as preventing cavities is concerned. Here are different tips that will help you prevent dental caries. Inquire from your dentist what tips are ideal for you.

Inquiring about the various antibacterial treatments. If you are especially susceptible to cavities, for instance, because you have a medical condition, your dental specialist may recommend a special antibacterial mouth rinse and other treatments to help reduce harmful mouth bacteria.

Avoiding frequent sipping and snaking. Whenever you drink beverages that aren’t water or eat starchy and sugary foods, you’re helping the bacteria in your mouth produce acids that may end up destroying the enamel. If you drink or snack all through the day, it means your teeth are under constant attack.

Drinking tap water. Several public water supplies add fluoride to water, which helps in reducing tooth decay considerably. If you only drink bottled water that’s fluoride-free, you won’t enjoy the benefits of fluoride.

Consider applying dental sealants. A sealant refers to a protective plastic coating smeared to the chewing surfaces of molars. It seals crannies and grooves that accumulate food, protecting the enamel from acid and plaque. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that all school-going children use sealants. Sealants can last for an extended period before their replacement, but they require regular checkups.

Regular visits to the dentist. Visit the dentist for routine oral/dental exams and professional teeth cleanings. Doing this can help spot problems early and fix them. Your dental specialist can suggest a schedule that is ideal for you.

Brushing your teeth using fluoride toothpaste soon after drinking or eating. Brush at least two times a day and preferably after every meal with fluoride toothpaste. To brush and clean in-between teeth, use an interdental cleaner or floss.

Rinsing your mouth. Should your dentist feel you are at a higher risk of having cavities, they may recommend using a fluoride-containing mouth rinse.

Considering fluoride treatments. Your dental specialist may recommend regular periodic treatments, particularly if you are not receiving adequate fluoride through sources like fluoridated drinking water. They may also suggest using custom trays that fit over your teeth for prescription fluoride application if you are at a higher risk of developing cavities.

Eating healthy foods for the teeth. Some beverages and foods are healthy for the teeth compared to others. Avoid any food that sticks in pits and grooves of the teeth for a lengthy period, or brush right after you’ve eaten them. But foods like fresh vegetables and fruits increase saliva flow.  Unsweetened tea, coffee, and sugarless gum help wash down food particles.

Combined treatments. Xylitol chewing gum, antibacterial rinse, and prescription fluoride can help lower the risk of developing cavities.

Tooth extractions. Sometimes a tooth becomes severely decayed that it cannot be saved and has to be removed. Tooth extraction leaves a gap that may allow the surrounding teeth to shift. If possible, consider replacing the extracted tooth with a bridge or dental implant.

Why You Should Treat Cavities

If you don’t take care of tooth decay, it will cause you further problems. These are primary reasons why you ought to address your cavity problem as soon as possible:

Cavities Are a Disease

Tooth decay is permanent damage caused by enamel and mineral loss. There is no way of fixing or reversing it by yourself once it becomes larger. You’ll have to go to the dentist for treatment. Like most other diseases, caries worsens as time goes by and lead to further complications if not treated. Advanced tooth decay can result in tooth loss, abscess, severe pain, and even infection. Other complications include:

  • Pus or swelling around the affected tooth.
  • Chewing problems.
  • Broken or damaged teeth.
  • Teeth shifting position after tooth loss.
  • Nutrition problems or weight loss from difficult or painful chewing or eating.

The Smaller Your Cavity Is, The Better

Treating dental caries earlier while they’re still in their earlier stages translates to more cost-friendly dental work and a predictable long-lasting outcome for your teeth. The primary goal of taking care of cavities is to preserve much of your original tooth structure. This directly affects a tooth’s capability to withstand the usual wear and tear and its resistance to crack or fracture.  If the cavity becomes bigger, more teeth will need to be extracted to treat the decay. If you extract more of your original tooth, what’s left becomes weaker and highly vulnerable to damage.

Treating Cavities During Early  Stages Saves You Money

Many people do not realize that the cost of cavity treatment is based on how large or small the affected area is. Dental specialists consider teeth to be a cube (having a top and four sides). Dental caries may affect all five surfaces or one surface only. Each affected surface increases the treatment cost. By treating soon after diagnosis, only a small surface might be affected. Thus, the treatment expenses will be less.

Prevents the Loss of Teeth

Waiting until dental caries becomes noticeable or bothersome usually means a dental filling isn’t an option anymore. When the cavity can be felt, it is more likely that it has spread to the tooth’s nerves. At this stage, the tooth usually needs extraction or root canal treatment. Based on the amount of original tooth remaining, extraction is often the only way to go.

Usually, it is more expensive and difficult to replace a missing/extracted tooth than saving that which is already in place. Preventative dental examinations are critical to identifying cavities sooner and enable you to discuss with your dental specialist a treatment option that’s ideal for you.

Untreated Cavities May Need You to Undergo More Procedures

The moment cavities become deep or large; they need time-consuming and more costly treatment than common fillings like a canal or crown. Even after filling a large cavity, the chances are it will require further treatment over time. For instance, it’s usually recommended that the tooth be fitted with a crown to achieve wear resistance and additional strength to the tooth structure.

Find a Tarzana Dental Clinic Near Me

At Tarzana Dental Care, we are dedicated to using advanced dental technology to ensure you receive the best possible dental care. We use early detection equipment to locate dental problems—cavities included— before they’re otherwise noticeable and start treatment right away. If you have a cavity and seek treatment in Tarzana, California, or want to know more about this condition, call us today at 818-708-3232 to schedule a consultation with one of our expert dental specialists.