What Are Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities are a common oral health issue affecting millions of Americans. They are caused by tooth decay which gradually erodes the health of your tooth’s outer layer (enamel) and the inner layer (dentin). While cavities are commonly associated with children, they regularly develop in adults as well. It is important to visit our Mesa dental office twice a year for your regular checkups and teeth cleanings to both prevent and catch early any tooth decay that can lead to cavities.
Causes Of A Cavity
When you eat foods containing sugars, these sugars combine with bacteria in your mouth to form a filmy substance called plaque that adheres to your teeth. Over time, plaque will produce acid which dissolves the enamel of your teeth and causes your teeth to decay, by creating the holes which are commonly known as cavities.
When decay is in the early stages of invading a tooth the patient likely won’t have any symptoms. This is when we can easily get rid of the decay and place a very small filling. We can spot early decay like this visually and on your x-rays.
But if we don’t see you for a while, the area of decay will get larger. As this happens there will be your possible symptoms:
- Spontaneous pain that doesn’t have any apparent cause
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
- Visible holes or pits in your tooth
- Brown, black, or white staining on the surface of a tooth
- Pain when biting down
What Happens If A Cavity Is Left Untreated?
Dental cavities can attack your teeth through the grooves on the biting surfaces or in between your teeth. Eventually, the cavity will spread from these areas into the underlying dentin. If left untreated, a dental cavity can infect the tooth’s nerve and create an abscess in the pulp at the center of the tooth.
Cavity Treatment Options
Dental fillings are an ideal solution to repair minor cavities. Drs of Smiles will remove the decayed portion of your tooth and replace it with a white composite filling. Due to the potential health risks associated with amalgam fillings, our dentists prefer to use dental fillings made of porcelain or composite resin. These fillings are highly durable and deliver beautiful, natural-looking results.
Porcelain Inlays And Onlays
Porcelain inlays and onlays are an ideal option if the decayed portion of your tooth is too large for a dental filling, but not quite large enough to require a dental crown. Inlays are for repairing damage within the cusps of your teeth. Onlays are for when the damage extends beyond one cusp.
When the decay from a cavity is extensive, a dental crown can be an option to repair the damage and protect your tooth. Drs of Smiles will remove the decayed portion of your tooth and then cover it with a dental crown.
If you do not treat your cavity for a long period of time, the nerve or pulp of the tooth dies. If this happens then the next treatment option will be a root canal to save the tooth. Our Mesa dentists will clean the center of the tooth and the root and remove any decay and the dead pulp tissue that is present. Your tooth’s root will then be filled with a sealing material and a dental crown will be placed on top for protection.
How Common Are Cavities?
Cavities, clinically known as dental caries, are one of the world’s most common health problems. Development of decay and a cavity is especially common in children, teenagers, and older adults. This is due to developing enamel in younger people, and thinning enamel in older people.
The numbers? Over 90 percent of U.S. adults have had a cavity, and one in four of those adults has an untreated cavity. Only 8 percent have never had a cavity.
Who Is At Risk For Developing A Cavity?
Everyone with their original, natural teeth can get a cavity, but there are lots of things that increase the odds of you doing so:
- Certain foods and drinks — Certain foods, such as milk, ice cream, soda, cake, cookies, hard candy, chips, dry cereals, and others, cling to your teeth for a long time. They are more likely to cause decay than foods easily washed away by your saliva.
- Frequent snacking or sipping — It’s better to eat meals, as your body then produces saliva to help keep your teeth clean. If you snack continuously or sip sugary drinks throughout the day, bacteria and acids outpace your saliva.
- Inadequate brushing — Some people simply don’t brush and floss adequately. Two minutes of diligent, but not too aggressive, brushing is needed to remove plaque. But this is not difficult at all.
- Lack of fluoride — Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral in various foods that have been proven beyond any doubt to help prevent decay. It can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage. That’s why fluoride has been added to public water supplies since the 1950s and you’ll find it in virtually every toothpaste and mouth rinse. Still, some people drink only bottled water as they think fluoride added to the water is some kind of government conspiracy. This unnecessarily opens their teeth to decay.
- Youth or old age — Children and teenagers have enamel that is still developing, and they tend to eat more sugary foods. Plus, they usually aren’t the best brushers. Older people have thinner enamel after a lifetime of chewing. Their gums may recede, exposing some of the tooth roots that are not covered with enamel.
- Dry mouth — Dry mouth is a lack of saliva production in the mouth. It can be a side effect of certain medications, some medical conditions, radiation treatments, and other causes. Because saliva helps prevent decay by washing away food on the teeth, dry mouth makes you more likely to develop cavities.
- Worn fillings or appliances — An old filling can develop rough edges that harbor plaque and are perfect for decay. Old dental appliances may not fit as well, allowing decay to build under them.
- Bedtime bottles — Putting an infant in the crib with a bottle with formula or juice is a recipe for the infant to develop a cavity. This bathes the teeth in sugars. The same is true when you allow a child to walk around with a sippy cup of juice.
- Eating disorders — Anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities due to the stomach acids in the mouth.
- Heartburn — Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease allow stomach acid to flow into your mouth during reflux. This wears away the tooth enamel and increases the odds of developing a cavity.
Are Tooth Decay And A Cavity The Same Thing?
Technically they are related but different, but most people think of tooth decay and cavities as the same thing. If you want to get down to the fine points, decay is a progressive tooth disease when the enamel of a tooth is compromised and the tooth is then exposed to oral bacteria. A cavity is a hole that develops in the tooth as the decay works its way into the tooth.
Is Getting A Cavity Removed Painful?
Dr. LeSueur and his team at Drs of Smiles understand that many people have anxiety about the dentist. They assume most procedures cause serious pain. This isn’t even remotely true. The patient feels nothing when he or she is getting decay removed from a tooth and a cavity placed. Modern local anesthetics are awesome. You will feel a slight pinprick when we inject the anesthesia, but that’s it.
If you want to know real pain, however, leave your tooth decay untreated. Eventually, the decay will enter the inner part of the tooth, the pulp. There it will come into contact with the nerve fibers in the tooth. Now there will be serious, some would say excruciating, pain when eating and chewing, and you will have extreme sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods and drinks. The end of this path is a root canal to save the tooth or the need to extract the tooth if decay becomes too prevalent.
What Should I Do if I Have a Cavity?
The signs of an emerging cavity can be very subtle. It is important to know what they are so you can get ahead of the decay as quickly as possible. Your first indications that you may have a cavity include feeling temporary pain when eating sweets or experiencing sensitivity when eating or drinking items that are either cold or hot. Don't wait until you have persistent, undeniable pain to contact our office. The sooner you have a cavity treated, the more of your natural tooth structure remains, which means you can achieve great results with more conservative treatment.
How Long Do Fillings Last?
At Drs of Smiles, we repair cavities with porcelain or composite, tooth-colored fillings. These restorations are not only more aesthetically pleasing but are also quite durable. On average, a composite filling can last seven to 10 years. Porcelain fillings are known to last 10 to 15 years, with some maintaining their integrity for decades. When you review your dental filling options, your dentist is happy to explain the differences between the two and how you can care for your teeth in a way that prolongs the life of your filling.
What is the Best Way to Treat Cavities?
The best way to treat cavities is quickly! We have multiple treatment options that we may explore when treating tooth decay. Ideally, what we want to do is preserve as much of your natural tooth structure as possible. This doesn't come from a particular treatment. A crown isn't necessarily better than a filling when it comes to tooth repair. What is ideal is to treat a cavity before it has moved into or through the layer of soft dentin that lies beneath your enamel.
What Should I Expect After a Filling?
If you receive a dental filling to repair a painful cavity, you can expect significant relief right away. Sometimes, the numbness from the local anesthetic lingers for a few hours before fading to a tingling sensation and then back to your normal sensation. Your tooth may feel sore or sensitive for a few days but this should not interfere with normal eating and other activities. If necessary, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever as directed to mitigate this temporary side effect.
Are Cavities Hereditary?
Your genes may influence quite a lot about your appearance, health, and more. For example, the shape of your teeth may be similar to one of your parents. Some bodies of research suggest that genes are also involved in the development of tooth enamel, the hard outer layer of material that protects softer tissues from decay. In a roundabout way, then, cavities may have a hereditary component. That said, even taking genetics into account, the vast majority of cavities are preventable. There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of tooth decay, including minimizing snacking throughout the day and sipping water frequently. Your daily oral care, also, is a critical factor in the management of your cavity risk and overall oral health. If you have questions about being cavity prone, come by our office! We can discuss your situation and how you can take the best care of your teeth and gums.
Can Cavities be Dangerous?
Cavities are dangerous to your long-term oral health, your comfort, and also to your peace of mind. Don't wait to see your dentist for cavity repair. Doing so can set the stage for a deep infection in the affected tooth that would require root canal therapy to remedy. Deep infection can lead to an abscess in the root of a tooth. It could lead to gum disease. It could lead to tooth loss. And long before then, the cavity will cause you a fair amount of stress and pain. Cavities are caused by bacteria, which are living organisms that, according to research, can travel from the mouth to other parts of the body. Why take a chance with your health? Restorative care is just a phone call away!
Preventing Future Cavities
Preventing tooth decay and cavities is not difficult. Basically, it comes down to removing plaque, the sticky film that is a byproduct of your saliva breaking down the foods and drinks you consume. Plaque forms on your teeth all day every day. When you brush diligently twice daily for two minutes and floss daily, you remove the plaque. This keeps it from developing into tooth decay.
Here are some tips for preventing that next cavity:
- Practice good home hygiene — Brush and floss every day. Be attentive.
- Keep your twice-yearly visits — Your twice-yearly professional cleanings and exams aren’t scheduled on some arbitrary timeframe. Six months is about the time it takes tartar, that off-white stuff that builds on certain areas on the inside of your lower teeth, to advance under your gumline. This timeframe also allows the team at Drs of Smiles to spot decay when it is very easy to remove and place a filling.
- Consider dental sealants — We recommend placing protective plastic resin sealants in the chewing surfaces of the molars of all of our children and teenage patients. These sealants fill in the deep fissures that naturally occur in many molars.
- Drink some tap water — Avoiding tap water means you’re also avoiding fluoride in the Mesa water system. Bottled water doesn’t have fluoride.
Schedule A Consultation
Dr. Scott LeSueur, Dr. Glenn LeSueur, and Dr. Charles Dodaro are Mesa dentists, serving Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, and other East Valley Cities in Arizona, combine LVI training and state-of-the-art technology to bring you, and your entire family, the very best and healthiest cosmetic and neuromuscular dental care.