You have always been told that you must floss and brush your teeth regularly to avoid getting cavities. Most people think that only children can get cavities, but adults are also at risk of getting a cavity. In fact, seniors are at as high of a risk as children are, especially if they didn’t practice good oral health care while they were children. So, you’ve heard all your life that you should do what you can to avoid tooth decay, but what exactly is a cavity in your tooth? It is just like any other cavity; it is a hole – a hole that has developed on or in your tooth.
What Causes Cavities?
There are two primary reasons why you may get a cavity which include bacteria in your mouth and a high starch and sugar diet. Everyone naturally has bacteria in their mouth, but the bacteria becomes problematic when you have poor oral hygiene. When the natural bacteria in your mouth combine with pieces of food and saliva, plaque forms, which is an invisible, sticky substance that accumulates on the enamel of your teeth. Foods that are rich in starch or sugar make the plaque stickier, and if the plaque remains on your teeth for a few days or more, it gets harder and becomes another substance known as tartar.
When the bacterium in plaque and tartar convert sugar into acid, the acid then eats away at the tooth enamel, which over time creates a soft spot or hole in your tooth (a cavity). Unfortunately, the acid continues to cause damage to the next layer of your tooth (the dentin), which is softer and more susceptible to the acid and the damage it causes. The bacteria and acid will continue to make their way through your tooth and into the pulp, which creates an even bigger hole.
Depending on the degree of the cavity, there are a few different treatment options, including fillings, crowns and root canals. If the cavity is just beginning, treatment may be as mild as using fluoride toothpaste and a sealer to stop the progression. However, if the cavity is already formed, the decay must be removed, and a filling is put in its place. Fillings are a composite material that the dentist uses to “fill” in the hole in the tooth. Other treatments may include:
- Caps or crowns: if the cavity is large, a crown may be necessary for restoration. A crown is typically used if the decay is extensive, there is only a little of the tooth structure remaining or if the tooth is weakened. When a cap is used, your dentist will remove the weakened or decayed part of your tooth and fit a crown (cap) over the remainder of your tooth.
- Root canal: a root canal is usually done if the decay has killed the nerve in your tooth. The decayed area and the center of your tooth (including the pulp) is removed. The root is then filled with a sealing substance, the tooth will be filled and a cap is typically applied.
Prevention is possible by practicing good oral hygiene and eating a healthy diet. Good oral hygiene includes using a soft-bristle toothbrush to brush your teeth at least twice each day and flossing at least once each day. It is also crucial to have your teeth examined and professionally cleaned every six months. Reducing the amount of sugar and starch you eat can help to prevent cavities. You should also avoid excessive snacking, sipping on sugary beverages and not chewing on candy or mints. It is also recommended that dental sealants be applied to the teeth of children to help prevent cavities. A sealant is a thin, plastic-like coating the dentist applies to the surface of molars, which helps to prevent the accumulation of plaque.
If you feel as though you or your children have a cavity, you should make an appointment with us at Trailhead Dental as soon as possible to get an examination and x-ray of your teeth to determine if you do indeed have a cavity forming. Contact us today to get started!