Cavities form as teeth begin to decay. Tooth decay is the wearing of the tooth structure. Tooth decay can affect the outer area of the tooth, known as the enamel, and the dentin layer of the tooth. In rare cases, tooth decay can even make its way to the nerve, or pulp, of the tooth.
The Most Common Causes of Cavities
Foods that contain sugars and starches are the leaders in tooth decay progression. The carbohydrates in milk, soda, fruits, bread, cereals, candy, and cakes are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live on the teeth use these sugars and starches to feed on, digesting them and turning them into acids. When this happens, the acids, leftover food, and saliva begin to form plaque. Plaque hugs the teeth, and the acids begin to wear away the enamel of the teeth. This makes holes that are commonly known as cavities.
It is a common misconception that cavities only occur in young children. In fact, the changes to the human body that occur during the aging process can affect the progression of cavities as well. As we get older, gums can begin to recede, and the roots of the tooth can become exposed to plaque This often occurs when there is gum disease present. Women that become pregnant are also more susceptible to cavities, due to increased cravings for sugary foods.
Older adults may find that the teeth begin to decay around fillings that they have previously had dental work for. This occurs because these aging adults did not have fluoride during their younger years, and modern preventative care wasn’t as accessible as it is today. Because care was so difficult- many older adults have a multitude of fillings. The filling can weaken and crack over time, leaving the tooth under them vulnerable to bacteria. This bacteria causes decay.
During your routine dental exam, your dentist will be able to determine if you have any cavities. If you do have a cavity, the area will feel soft when the dental professional puts a bit of pressure on it. The x rays that are taken give the dentist the ability to see cavities before they appear on the surface of the tooth.
If you find yourself in the end stages of tooth decay, you may experience symptoms such as a toothache when consuming hot or cold foods, or you may even be able to see holes or pits in the affected areas.
When your dentist concludes that a cavity is present, there are different ways to treat it. The dental professional will choose the appropriate method by assessing the extent of tooth decay. If the tooth decay is minimal, the decayed area of the tooth is by a drilling method. It is then replaced with a modern filling made with gold, porcelain, or silver alloy. It is important to note that these materials are deemed safe by the ADA and FDA for restorative measures during dental procedures.
If the dentist finds that the decay is more severe and there isn’t much of the actual tooth structure still in place, a crown can be created to cover the affected area. The decayed part of the tooth is removed and repaired. After the repair, the area is fitted for a crown, and the crown is placed on the remaining portion of the tooth. Porcelain, gold, and fused porcelain are used to make crowns.
In rare cases, nerve damage results from tooth decay. If this is the case, the dentist will need to perform a root canal. The center of the tooth and decayed areas are removed, and the roots are filled with a sealant. Sometimes, a crown is placed over the damaged tooth.
Dental technology and procedures are ever-changing and improving. There may be a better option available to prevent or repair decayed areas tomorrow! But for now, the above are the most common measures used to treat those pesky cavities and tooth decay.