Cavities are an incredibly common dental ailment that, if left untreated, can lead to tooth loss, infection, and other serious complications. Here, we discuss dental cavities, how they happen, how your dentist can treat them, and how you can prevent cavities from the start.
What Causes Cavities?
Your teeth are made up of enamel out the outside (like a shell), followed by dentin, and finally, the tooth’s pulp, which carries blood and sensation. Your teeth aren’t made of bone, though they can look like bones, which is how the misconception likely began.
When you eat food, some of that food gets left behind on your teeth. If you’ve ever heard of dental plaque, that’s a thin film of bacteria on the surface of your teeth. These bacteria eat this leftover food, which in turn makes acid. This acid eats away at the enamel of your teeth, weakening it and eventually causing holes called cavities.
Because food and bacteria can hide in cavities, bacteria can make them deeper over time, leading to more cavities and even an infection if the hole reaches the tooth’s root. Without properly cleaning your teeth, cavities can eat away at your teeth, leading to tooth decay, pain, infection, and even tooth loss.
Can I Prevent Cavities?
Brushing and flossing your teeth and visiting your dentist for a cleaning twice a year can all help stave off tooth decay and prevent cavities. Removing that layer of food and plaque from your teeth keeps bacteria from producing acid, staving off cavities before they start.
Using fluoridated toothpaste can also help stave off tooth decay, as your body uses fluoride to maintain and repair your enamel. You can also avoid cavities by limiting the sugary, acidic beverages and foods you drink. For example, soda tastes great but can increase your risk for cavities thanks to its high acid and sugar content.
Brushing your teeth after meals and before bed can help prevent cavities, but it can help stave off other infections and dental problems caused by bacteria, like gum disease, so clean your teeth well.
How Are Cavities Treated?
If you have a cavity, it’s time to visit the dentist. While very small cavities may heal, it’s important to talk to your dentist about any cavities, even unseen ones. Your dentist checks for cavities by looking at the surface of your teeth and poking around to find any soft spots in the enamel. Unfortunately, some cavities are nearly invisible and can only appear if you check for weak spots.
Once your dentist finds a cavity, the main treatment option is a dental filling. During a dental filling, your dentist numbs around the area and uses and drill to remove any decaying, damaged enamel. Then, they clean and dry the area before applying a filling. This filling acts like the surface of your teeth and keeps the cavity from getting bigger. A deep cavity that reaches the dental pulp requires a root canal or, in some cases, dental extraction, so it’s always best to get your cavities checked early on.