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Dental cavities are permanently damaged areas that often develop into holes in the enamel, or hard outer surface, of your teeth. Cavities are also known as tooth decay or caries. Anyone with teeth can get a cavity. They are most common in small children, teenagers, and older adults.
There are three types of cavities:
The symptoms of a dental cavity depend on the type of cavity and the severity of tooth decay. When a cavity first develops, you likely won’t even know it’s there.
When a cavity gets larger, you may experience:
Regular dental exams, every six months or so, can help you catch any problems early. Finding a dental cavity before it starts causing you pain can help you avoid extensive damage and possible tooth loss. If you start feeling pain and aching in your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible.
The cause of cavities is tooth decay. The hard surface, or enamel, of your teeth can become damaged over time. Bacteria, food particles, and naturally occurring acids form a sticky film called plaque that coats your teeth. The acid in plaque eventually starts to eat away at your enamel. Once the acid eats through your enamel, it starts to damage the underlying dentin. Dentin is the second softer layer of your teeth that’s more easily damaged.
If your tooth decay continues without treatment, the pulp, or inside, of your teeth may be affected. The pulp of your teeth houses blood vessels and nerves. When decay spreads to the pulp, it can cause nerve damage. The nerve damage results in pain, irritation, and swelling. When tooth decay becomes advanced, pus may form around the tooth as your immune system attempts to fight the decay. This buildup of pus causes bacteria.
Treatment of your dental cavity will depend on how severe your tooth decay is.
Your dentist may use a filling to repair the hole in your tooth. Fillings can be made out of a variety of materials, including amalgam (metal) or composite (resin). During a filling, your dentist removes the decayed portion of your tooth using a drill and fills the hole with the material. Crowns are used if a large amount of your tooth needs to be removed. Crowns are custom made from metal or porcelain. They usually cover the entire top surface of your tooth.
If the decay reaches the inside of your tooth, a root canal may be necessary. Root canals involve removing the damaged nerve of your tooth and replacing it with a filling. Contrary to popular belief, root canals aren’t any more painful than regular fillings.
If your tooth is beyond repair, your dentist will perform an extraction, or tooth removal. Your dentist can surgically remove your tooth and replace it with a false one, if you desire.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that can strengthen your tooth enamel. It makes your teeth more resistant to decay caused by acids and bacteria. Fluoride treatments can also reverse early signs of tooth decay.
Taking good care of your teeth is the best way to prevent cavities. Great cavity prevention starts at home, but regular dental checkups are necessary as well. Follow these tips for good oral hygiene to prevent cavities:
Taking good care of your teeth and gums is an important part of staying healthy. A buildup of bacteria in your mouth can be dangerous. The bacteria can travel from your mouth into your bloodstream to your heart, where it can cause endocarditis. Some research has also linked oral bacteria to the risk of heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Practice good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly. This can help you prevent and treat a buildup of harmful bacteria in your mouth, as well as cavities and gum disease.
Written by: Carmella Wint
Medically reviewed on: May 04, 2016: Christine Frank, DDS
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