There is a good chance that you or someone you know have had them already. If so, you know how painful (and costly) they can get. Cavities are one of the world’s most common health problems and if left untreated, can cause toothache, infection and ultimately tooth loss.
But what exactly are cavities, what causes us to get them and how can we protect our teeth against them? In this article we explore how to best look after your oral health and keep bacteria and plaque away to avoid getting holes in your teeth.
Cavities, what are they?
Cavities, or what’s sometimes referred to as dental caries or tooth decay, is a diet-related disease caused by the bacteria in your mouth. The tooth enamel (the hard outside structure of your teeth) is damage by acids that are created when plaque bacteria break down sugar after a meal or snack. Anyone with teeth can develop cavities, including small children, and the most common causes are poor oral hygiene and high-sugar diets.
There are 4 different types of cavities which appear in different areas of the tooth:
- Root cavities – Occur on the root surface of the tooth
- Pit and fissure cavities – Appear in narrow grooves on the biting surfaces
- Smooth surface cavities – Slow-growing decay appearing on smooth surfaces of your tooth
- Proximal cavities – Appears between teeth and can usually only be discovered with x-rays
Your dentist will be able to establish which type of cavities you have developed and how to best treat them.
What causes cavities?
Your mouth contains bacteria which converts the sugar you eat into energy. In the process, acids are produced as a waste product. This acid dissolves the crystals of your teeth and causes mineral loss, leaving the tooth vulnerable to tooth decay.
Your saliva safeguards your teeth and works to prevent tooth decay from occurring. It washes sugar out of your mouth to stop the acid from causing damage and fights bad bacteria. It’s only if the amount of acid outweighs the protective effect of your saliva, tooth decay will occur.
The more sugar you consume, the more acid is produces and the risk for cavities is increased. A good rule of thumb is to brush your teeth within 20 minutes after any meal, as this is the timeframe within which your teeth are left most vulnerable from the sugar acids.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of cavities can vary and you may not be aware of the extent of the decay for a long time. However, as the cavity gets larger and eventually becomes a visible hole, the symptoms will intensify and you can experience any of the following:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild to sharp pain when eating, drinking or biting down
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
Since cavities and tooth decay are so common you may not take them seriously. However, cavities can lead to serious complications and long-term pain if not cared for properly. Complications from cavities may include tooth loss, severe pains or chewing problems, and may end up interfering with you daily living. Other complications include:
- Weight loss or nutrition problems
- Damages confidence and self-esteem
- A tooth abscess which can lead to more serious infections
If you follow the above advice you will radically minimise the risk of getting cavities. However, even most dedicated oral hygiene fanatics will most likely get at least one (or two) cavities over their lifetime. The key is to be able to recognise the symptoms and find and treat them quickly.
So, how do we treat them?
The most common form of treatment for a cavity is a dental filling. Your dentist will use a drill to remove the decayed part of the tooth and replace with a filling of either composite resins, porcelain, silver, gold, or amalgam. This will stop the tooth from decaying any further.
More severe cases may need other more advanced treatments such as crowns and root canals. This is usually only necessary when the damage is so extensive a filling won’t be enough.
If your tooth is beyond repair, you might need to get rid of it altogether. Your dentist may recommend performing an extraction, which involves removing the tooth and replacing it with a dental implant. Your dentist will also be able to give you advice on how to eliminate the cause of your tooth decay to prevent future decay.
Even better than treatment, is prevention. There are several daily habits you can easily adopt to minimise the risk of cavities and tooth decay. Good oral and dental hygiene companied with a well-balanced diet has proven to be the most effective prevention methods.
Here are some tips to increase your dental wellness:
- Brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating or drinking
- Use dental floss daily
- Avoid smoking
- Rinse your mouth with fluoride or mouthwash
- Visit your dentist regularly
- Consider dental sealants
- Avoid frequent snacking and drinking
- Eat tooth-healthy foods such as vegetables
- Consider fluoride treatments and antibacterial treatments
- Chewing xylitol-based gum
Poor oral hygiene is inherently linked with numerous teeth and gum diseases that may cause a lack of confidence and toothache. You should therefore take your oral health seriously, whether you’re a child, teen, or adult.
Tooth health with GC Dental Solutions
What treatment to choose for your cavity should depend on the severity of it and what your dentist recommends. We are your local Helensvale dentist who can provide a range of preventive and restorative treatments to help maintain your oral health.