If you have gone in for a dental exam and been told you have a cavity, it may often come as a surprise. You follow a good oral hygiene routine, so how could you have a cavity? What are the signs of cavities, and what are the symptoms? Is there any way you can see the beginning of cavities?
To better understand cavities, we take a closer look at exactly what a cavity is, how they form, and what to expect when you have one.
What is a cavity?
Simply put, a cavity is a hole in your tooth that forms due to tooth decay. They can form anywhere on the surface of a tooth. But what does a cavity look like? Cavities can vary greatly in appearance, but, for the most part, they appear as small holes or dark spots and discoloration on the surface of your tooth.
How can you tell you have cavities?
Unfortunately, you can’t always see dental cavities and tooth decay with the naked eye. This is why regular dental exams by your dentist are so important. Your dentist uses special tools and dental x-rays to catch cavities early and before they cause severe damage to your tooth. If left undetected, a cavity will eventually cause noticeable symptoms. These symptoms can include:
- Tooth pain/toothache
- Tooth sensitivity
- Visible hole in the tooth
- Bad breath
- Swelling or bleeding gums
- Broken or chipped tooth
- Unpleasant taste in your mouth
How does a cavity form?
A cavity forms due to tooth decay. This tooth decay progresses through three distinct stages, with cavity formation beginning in the second stage. To better understand the formation of cavities, let’s take a closer look at the three stages.
Formation of plaque
Plaque is the sticky film that can form on the surface of your teeth. Plaque develops when normal bacteria in your mouth feed on the sugars within the foods you eat. You can run your tongue across the surface of your teeth and feel this film after an extended period between brushing your teeth. Regular brushing helps remove this plaque and keep the bacteria levels in your mouth under control. However, if you do not follow a good oral hygiene routine, this plaque remains on the surface of your teeth and, over time, can be hardened into tartar. Tartar is harder to remove from your teeth. It often develops along your gumline and allows plaque to get under the gumline, leading to gum disease.
Attack of plaque
When plaque remains on the surface of your teeth, it begins to eat away at the minerals that make up your tooth’s protective layer, known as the enamel. As it does this, it creates tiny holes in the enamel. These tiny holes are the earliest forms of cavities. They allow bacteria to enter the tooth, eventually moving towards the inner dentin layer. Within the dentin, microscopic tubes lead to the nerves within the teeth, often leading to tooth sensitivity, an early sign of cavity formation.
If left untreated, the bacteria continue to eat away at the dentin until it makes its way to the inner pulp of the tooth. Here is where your tooth’s blood supply and nerves are found. As the bacteria enters, it causes inflammation, swelling, and pressure on the nerves, often resulting in severe tooth pain.
Cavities need to be treated early to minimize the damage to the tooth and potential tooth loss. Regular dental exams can detect these cavities early and treat them before this damage occurs, making it very important to visit your dentist at least twice a year. Your two main cavity treatment options include dental fillings and tooth extraction as a final resort.
The most common treatment for early cavities is dental filling. To apply a dental filling, the dentist begins by removing the decayed area of the tooth with specialized dental instruments. Once removed, the tooth is cleaned, and a filling material is put in place. This material can be anything from silver amalgam to tooth-colored composite. Once the filling material sets, the filling is trimmed and polished to your tooth. This filling works to protect the damaged area of the tooth from allowing more bacteria to enter.
If the cavity has been untreated for too long and has caused unrepairable damage to the tooth, extraction is often necessary. Because the extraction of an adult tooth can affect your bite and the stability of your surrounding teeth, it is used as a final resort. If your tooth requires extraction, your dentist is likely to suggest a tooth replacement, such as a dental implant.
Preventing cavities with New Leaf Rohnert Park
The good news is that you can do things to reduce your risk of developing dental cavities and help ensure that if you do get a cavity, it is treated before too much damage occurs. Some top preventative measures include:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day
- Daily flossing
- Rinsing your mouth with mouthwash to remove bacteria and food debris
- Drinking water throughout the day to help rinse your mouth and reduce plaque formation
- Limit sugary foods and drinks
- Chew gum with xylitol during the day as it increases the production of saliva and helps reduce plaque formation
- Acid can also contribute to the erosion of your teeth, so treating acid reflux can help reduce acid damage.
- Consider regular fluoride treatments.
- Attend regular dental cleanings to remove any plaque or tartar buildup
While these tips can help reduce your risk of developing cavities, the most important part of early cavity detection is regular dental exams with your dentist. At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand the importance of a beautiful, healthy smile, and we work with you to create a regular exam schedule that works with your schedule and helps promote good oral health. To learn more, visit us online or call the office at (707) 586-1549 today to schedule an appointment.