Nearly everyone will develop a cavity at some point in their lives. Despite how common cavities are, there is still some confusion about exactly what causes them and how they are treated. Read on as Dr. Gordon Bell of the Center for Dental Excellence answers the most frequently asked questions about cavities.
What is a cavity?
A cavity is tooth decay that erodes tooth enamel, the hard outer layer of the tooth, creating a hole. It occurs when naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth feeds off of sugar in the foods or beverages you consume. The bacteria then produces acids that eat away at your tooth enamel, creating the tiny holes that we call cavities.
How do I know if I have a cavity?
If you have a visible hole or a dark stain on one of your teeth, it could be a cavity. Cavities can also cause sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.
However, these symptoms are not exclusive to cavities. If you notice any of these signs, you should see Dr. Bell to determine the root cause of your symptoms.
Do cavities hurt?
Yes. Some cavities cause toothaches or a stinging or burning sensation.
How are cavities diagnosed?
Cavities are diagnosed with a comprehensive oral exam and a discussion of your symptoms. Dr. Bell may use a special dental instrument to probe the tooth in question; if the tooth structure is soft, it can indicate a cavity. X-rays are used to diagnose cavities in between the teeth.
How are cavities treated?
The type of treatment depends on the severity of the cavity. Sometimes early cavities can be reversed with fluoride treatments. Fluoride is a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel.
Fillings are a common treatment for cavities. Dr. Bell must first remove the decayed tooth structure. Then, once the tooth is clean, he places the filling material directly in the hole in the tooth.
Severe cavities that have spread over an extensive portion of the tooth may require a crown. The crown encapsulates the entire tooth, restoring its normal form and function.
What happens if I leave a cavity untreated?
If a cavity is left untreated, the decay can spread through the inner layers of the tooth. If it reaches the pulp, or the tissue containing blood vessels and nerves, it may cause an infection. At this point, root canal therapy is needed to save the infected tooth.
How can I prevent cavities?
The best ways to prevent cavities are to brush your teeth twice a day, floss your teeth once a day, limit your consumption of sugary foods and visit your dentist regularly for exams and cleanings.
If you suspect you have a cavity, Dr. Bell encourages you to schedule an appointment with him promptly. Call or email us today to request a visit.