Cavities are among the most common dental problems. Many if not most people have one at some point in their lives, and it can occur for several reasons. The good news is that dentists are generally very good at fixing casualties and keeping teeth healthy and happy. They use a variety of techniques to do this, depending on the location, nature, and extent of the cavity in question. Let’s take a look and learn more about cavities, their causes and symptoms, and how dentists fix them.
Causes and Symptoms of Cavities
Dental cavities also referred to as dental caries, are holes in the enamel of the tooth that lead to damage to the tooth and pulp. Cavities occur when bacteria build-up to the point that their acidic waste eats through the hard outer enamel of the tooth, giving the bacteria access to the softer inner tissues. Cavities, if left untreated, can lead to serious damage or even tooth loss, so detecting and treating cavities quickly is important. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of cavities:
- Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Tooth sensitivity, particularly to heat, cold, or pressure
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
- Pain when you chew or speak or bite down
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms regularly, contact your dentist and arrange an exam. They’ll be able to tell if a cavity is present, what other problems might be present, and how to treat them.
How Dentists Treat Cavities
Dentists have a variety of ways of treating cavities, depending on the size and location of the cavity and the extent of the damage that it caused. The most common means of treating a cavity is via a filling. Your dentist will numb the tooth in question so you don’t feel much pain and then use a series of small powerful drills to remove the damaged or decayed portion of the tooth in question. When that damage is cleared away, the hole is filled with one of several materials to replace the damaged portion and restore normal use of the tooth. The filling may be a silvery metallic amalgam, gold, or more commonly a porcelain filling material that matches the original color of the tooth and restores both function and appearance.
If the cavity has progressed and the tooth is seriously decayed, something more serious may be needed. Your dentist may replace the entire top of the tooth with a crown, which provides more strength and protection than a filling. A good crown will last for years, if not a lifetime, and provides normal appearance and function to the tooth.
If the damage is even more serious, it may be time for a root canal. A root canal works a bit like a crown, however, the soft inner pulp of the tooth is all removed and replaced with a rubber-like substance called gutta-percha. Then a crown is applied, and the tooth regains most of its normal function and appearance. Root canals are only for serious damage, and most cavities do not require them.
The best way to treat cavities is to avoid them in the first place. The best way to do this is by maintaining a regular and effective brushing and flossing routine, coupled with a healthy diet low in sugars and starches. This helps keep teeth clean, avoids feeding bacteria and thus allowing them to multiply, and promotes overall health. Combined with regular visits to the dentist for exams and cleanings, and you’ll be well on your way to avoiding cavities altogether!