Since childhood, you have seen constant warnings about cavities. Your favorite TV shows likely featured them a few times. You probably learned about them in school, and your dentist probably explained them to you during one of your first checkups.
Luckily, you have never had to experience a cavity before. Your teeth have stayed healthy for years because of your close attention to dental hygiene. However, you’ve recently noticed some strange spots on your teeth, and you wonder if you have developed a cavity.
Below, we will tell you how to assess whether or not you have one of these dental caries. We will also answer several common questions our patients have about cavities.
1. What Are Cavities?
The term “cavity” refers to a hole in your teeth’s enamel. That hole forms because bacteria make the enamel decay. These holes start small at first, and you may not notice them. But as they develop, they can eat away at your enamel until they reach the dentin and pulp underneath. They may even cause a painful condition called an abscess, which we will outline later.
2. How Do Cavities Develop?
Bacteria cause tooth decay or cavities through their metabolic process. When they eat the sugars and carbohydrates that enter your mouth, they secrete an acid as a byproduct. And because these bacteria coat your teeth in the form of plaque or tartar, that acid goes directly onto your tooth enamel. Over time, the acid erodes the enamel away.
When the acid reveals the dentin underneath the enamel, the bacteria has a new food source. It settles into the dentin and other soft tissues, like the pulp that contains the nerves and blood vessels, and it causes an infection. At this point, the cavity has reached its most advanced stage.
3. How Do You Tell If You Have Cavities?
You might not always have the ability to spot a cavity. Small cavities may not exhibit any signs, and only your dentist’s trained eye would catch them at this early stage. But as they develop, you may notice symptoms like sensitivity as the dentin becomes exposed. You may also notice dark spots or even bright white spots. Eventually, your entire tooth may appear dark.
Additionally, as the cavity progresses, you may also notice these symptoms:
- A bad taste in your mouth
- Bad breath
You develop these symptoms as a result of the decay. If you notice any of the indicators listed in this section, see your dentist for a checkup right away!
4. Where Do Cavities Usually Form?
Cavities can form on any of the teeth in your mouth. However, they tend to form most often in these areas:
- The back teeth-these teeth have more grooves, and they come into contact with food more often
- The surfaces where teeth touch each other-food can become trapped here, and you may forget to floss
- The backs of your teeth-these surfaces often receive less attention than they should
You probably can’t assess these surfaces well if you suspect you have a cavity. You don’t have the small mirror or pick that a dentist uses to check for cavities. Luckily, your dentist checks all of these areas at each checkup, so he or she will notice if you have tooth decay.
5. Why Don’t Cavities Hurt?
Many people assume they don’t have a cavity because they don’t feel anything. However, cavities don’t cause pain-at least not in the early stages. When they do start to cause pain, you have waited too long, and you will have to pay for more extensive treatments instead of quick and convenient ones. After all, you won’t feel pain until the cavity reaches the pulp in the center of your tooth. At that point, an abscess, or an infected hole could form around the tooth’s roots.
Abscesses don’t just cause pain. They can also spread bacteria to neighboring teeth or even other areas throughout the body. So don’t wait for treatment if you have a cavity.
6. What Treatment Options Do You Have?
Your treatment options depend on what stage the cavity has reached. If you catch it early, your dentist will simply remove the decayed material and give you a filling. This procedure is quick and cost-effective.
But if the cavity reaches an advanced stage and infects or kills the pulp, you may need a root canal and a crown. During a root canal, your dentist accesses and removes the pulp. Then, he or she seals the opening to prevent further decay. He or she then files the tooth’s remaining structure and creates a mold for a crown. The crown replaces the damaged tooth structure. Despite the cavity’s effects, you will have a full smile again.
7. How Can You Prevent Cavities in the Future?
Good oral hygiene, regular dental checkups, and a low-sugar diet represent the best ways to avoid cavities in the future. If you have any questions about your personal approach for cavity prevention, ask your dentist.