According to the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91% of Americans have had cavities at some point in their lives, with 27% having untreated cavities. In many cases, you can see potential cavities on the surface of your teeth. You may notice dark spots or even small holes developing. However, cavities between your teeth, known as interproximal cavities, can be difficult to see with the naked eye and put you at a greater risk for dental concerns. The good news is, at New Leaf Rohnert Park, we work with you to identify these cavities early and create a treatment plan that works with your schedule.
What causes cavities between teeth?
Cavities are the result of a breakdown of the outer layer of your tooth or the enamel. Many different factors contribute to cavity formation, including bacteria in your mouth, snacking on sugary foods, drinking sugary or acidic beverages, and poor oral hygiene. Cavities form over time as plaque forms on the teeth. Plaque is a transparent, sticky film that coats your teeth. If not removed, it hardens into tartar that begins to erode the tooth’s enamel, eventually reaching the inner layer or dentin.
Unfortunately, the small areas between your teeth are prone to plaque and tartar buildup because they are areas that are more difficult to clean. Regular brushing and flossing often miss areas between the teeth, leaving plaque behind and increasing the risk of enamel decay and cavity formation. Because cavities between the teeth are difficult to see, it is important to attend regular dental checkups so your dentist can detect these cavities before they become a problem.
Symptoms of interproximal cavities
Interproximal cavity symptoms vary depending on the stage of enamel erosion. In the beginning stages, you may experience no symptoms at all. This is why it is so important to see your dentist regularly, as they can often detect and address early enamel erosion before it becomes a cavity. When the erosion breaks through to the dentin, you may begin to experience tooth pain, tooth sensitivity and pain when you bite down. If left untreated, you may begin noticing tooth discoloration or small pits in the tooth or area where two teeth come together. Unfortunately, interproximal cavities can often affect both teeth.
Diagnosing interproximal cavities
Because interproximal cavities form between the teeth, they are often impossible to see during a routine visual exam. Therefore, x-rays are a typical part of your dental exam. Bitewing x-rays show the teeth from the exposed surface down to the supporting bone, as well as the spaces in between each tooth. This allows the dentist to see enamel erosion from the beginning and when cavities have formed.
Can cavities in between teeth be fixed?
If bitewing x-rays and your dental exam show that you have enamel erosion or cavities between your teeth, the treatment will depend on how extensive the erosion is. In the early stages, treatment can help reduce erosion and help prevent cavities.
If enamel erosion is caught early enough and only extends halfway into the enamel, a dentist can apply a fluoride gel treatment to provide recalcification to the enamel. This helps restore the enamel and reduce the risk of erosion spreading into the dentin and creating a full cavity. Regular use of fluoride toothpaste can also help recalcification.
If the erosion extends more than halfway into the tooth’s enamel, the dentist will use a filling to help restore the tooth. To do this, the dentist drills the tooth to remove the decay before filling the area with a composite material.
If the erosion has gone undetected and penetrates the dentin of the tooth, the best option for saving the tooth is a root canal. A root canal involves removing the pulp inside the tooth with special instruments. Once the pulp is removed, the tooth is cleaned and disinfected before being filled with a composite material. After that, a crown goes in place to provide support for the tooth and restore function.
In cases of severe erosion and infection, sometimes the tooth is beyond saving. In this case, tooth extraction is necessary. However, extraction is always the last resort. When a tooth must be removed, your dentist will talk with you about replacement options, such as a bridge, dental implants or a partial denture.
Preventing cavities in between teeth
A good oral hygiene routine is essential to help prevent cavities in general. However, cavities between teeth can be a little more difficult to prevent. Flossing is essential to help remove food particles, plaque, and bacteria from between your teeth. Reducing your intake of sugary snacks and beverages can also help reduce your risk or cavities between your teeth.
Because these cavities can be difficult to prevent, it is important that you attend regular dental visits that allow the dentist to detect interproximal cavities before they become a problem. At New Leaf Rohnert Park, our goal is to help our patients achieve optimal oral health. We work with you to create an oral hygiene routine that reduces your risk of cavities as well as provide treatment options that address existing cavities and give you a healthy, beautiful smile. To learn more about oral care and cavity risks, contact us online or call our office today at (707) 586-1549 to schedule an appointment.