Cavities – also known as tooth decay – are holes that form in your teeth. This common oral health condition can lead to a number of serious problems when left untreated, which is why it’s important to attend regular dental checkups so your dentist can spot a cavity as early as possible.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at cavities, from signs and symptoms to causes of tooth decay and what to do if you’re diagnosed with a cavity.
What is a cavity?
Cavities are tiny openings or holes in your teeth, caused by dental plaque. If left untreated, cavities can get bigger and affect deeper layers of your teeth, resulting in severe toothache, infection and even tooth loss.
How do I know if I have a cavity?
Symptoms of a cavity can differ depending on its severity and location in the mouth – and in the early stages of a cavity, you may not experience any symptoms at all.As the tooth decay increases, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild to sharp pain when consuming sweet, hot or cold substances
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown, black or white stains on tooth surfaces
- Pain when biting down
Attending regular check-ups at Apple Dental is an important part of identifying cavities before they cause symptoms or more complex issues. If you notice toothache, mouth pain, or any other symptom listed above, see your dentist as soon as possible.
What causes cavities?
Cavities are caused by dental plaque, a sticky substance that binds to the surface of the teeth. Plaque is a combination of bacteria, saliva, acid and food particles.
We all have bacteria in our mouths. After consuming food or drinks containing sugar, this bacteria converts the sugar into acid, which causes the formation of plaque. The acid in plaque can slowly erode tooth enamel – the hard layer covering the surface of your teeth that protects against decay.
Factors that may increase your risk of developing cavities include:
- A diet high in sugary or acidic foods and drinks
- Poor oral hygiene, e.g. failing to brush twice a day or floss daily
- Not getting enough fluoride
- Dry mouth
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
- Acid reflux disease, which can cause stomach acid to erode your teeth enamel
You may notice symptoms like swollen red gums and stiffness in your jaw, as well as feeling generally unwell. In some cases, a cyst can form around the impacted wisdom tooth, which can damage surrounding bone, teeth, and gums. Although antibiotics can be used for infections, impacted wisdom teeth will generally need to be removed.
What should I do if I have a cavity?
If your dentist diagnoses a cavity, they’ll discuss the treatment options with you, which will depend on factors such as how severe the cavity is and your specific situation.If a cavity is treated before it starts causing pain, you probably won’t need extensive treatment. Treatment options for cavities include the following:
- Fluoride treatments: If your cavity is still in its early stages, a fluoride treatment can help to restore tooth enamel and possibly even reverse a cavity.
- Dental fillings: Also called restorations, fillings are the most common treatment option when a cavity has developed beyond its earliest stage. Fillings can be made of dental amalgam (a mixture of metals), composite or tooth-coloured porcelain for a more natural look.
- Crowns: If the cavity is extensive or the tooth has been weakened, you may require a dental crown, which is a custom-fitted covering that restores the damaged tooth. Crowns are made from high grade, durable porcelain, either by our specialist dental technician or with CEREC technology.
- Root canal treatment: If the decay extends to the tooth pulp (the inner material), you may need root canal treatment. By removing the damaged pulp, this treatment is very effective at repairing and saving a badly damaged or infected tooth rather than having to extract it.
- Tooth extraction: In cases where the tooth has become so badly decayed there is no way of restoring it, it will need to be removed. If you have to undergo a tooth extraction, there are a number of options for replacing the missing tooth, including a dental implant or bridge.
If you’re concerned about cavities or need advice on next steps, contact the Apple Dental team today.