What to Know About Cavities
What is a Cavity
A dental cavity is permanent damage to a tooth, defined by the progression of tooth decay that forms a hole in the tooth enamel. Cavities are formed due to a combination of factors such as unhealthy eating and poor dental hygiene habits. Other contributing factors may be poor salivary flow and using non-fluoridated drinking water.
Cavities are extremely common, especially among children and teenagers. The CDC estimates that 90% of people have had at least one cavity in their life by the time they reach the age of 20.
If left untreated, cavities can develop into more serious oral health issues such as severe pain, tooth infections, and eventually tooth loss.
What Does a Cavity Look Like?
The beginning stages of a cavity will look like a dark yellow or light brown stain on the tooth enamel. As the cavity evolves, it will become darker in color and the stain-looking mark will become larger and possibly result in a hole in the tooth. Left untreated, the hole will go deep into the tooth, which can cause severe pain.
Cavity vs. Stain
In the early stages, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a cavity and a stain. There are a few main differences:
- Stains are most often lighter in color than a cavity can be; although stains caused by tobacco can be very similar in color
- Stains frequently discolor multiple teeth at a time, while cavities usually develop one by one
- Stains are not a form of tooth decay, and do not cause pain to the tooth, while cavities can result in pain as they progress
What Does a Cavity Feel Like?
In the early stages, a cavity may not have any issues or sensation. Once the cavity begins to enlarge, the patient will begin to experience a dull ache when performing tasks such as:
- Drinking or eating something sugary
- Biting down
- Running over the tooth with the tongue
- Brushing the tooth with a toothbrush
The pain will increase in intensity as the cavity continues to evolve and enlarge.
How to remove cavities
Since cavities are a form of permanent damage to the tooth, they will not go away on their own. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available to ease the pain and remove the brown or black stains caused by cavities.
The first stage of a cavity is defined as “initial demineralization.” This is the point where the bacteria begins to erode away the minerals protecting your tooth.
This is often referred to as a “pre-cavity".” At this stage, the cavity is merely a light stain on the tooth that hasn’t formed a visible hole that is eroding the enamel yet. If treated early enough, the damage can be reversed at this stage.
Proper Dental Care
The best thing to do to reverse a cavity if you catch it early enough is to change your dental care habits. Brush at least twice daily with an electric toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste, floss once per day, and rinse with mouthwash at night time. If your diet includes a lot of sugary foods and beverages, cut back on that as much as possible.
Fluoride treatment is great for preventing cavities as well. Your dentist will likely recommend this procedure if you are showing early signs of a cavity.
Stages 2 & 3
Stage 2 is defined by enamel decay, while Stage 3 is when dentin decay begins.
During these stages, you will start to notice the spot on your tooth darken to a yellow or brown color and a hole or pit will start to form on the tooth. During these stages you may start to notice sensitivity or pain when eating or drinking.
The most common solution for treating cavities, dental fillings are a type of restoration dentistry in which the hole of the cavity is filled with a filling of amalgam, composite, metal, or ceramic.
For more severe cavities, crowns may be considered as an option. Your dentist will whittle the remainder of your tooth to be able to fit a crown – a tooth-shaped cap – on top. Crowns look and function like normal teeth and are a permanent solution to tooth decay.
Stages 4 & 5
Stage 4 is when the pulp of the tooth begins to damage, while Stage 5 is when an abscess begins to form in the infected pulp. Patients at these stages will suffer severe tooth pain and may begin to show other symptoms such as swelling of the gums or jaw and fever.
Once the pulp of the tooth has been damaged, a root canal will be necessary to save the tooth. During this process, the damaged pulp of the tooth will be removed and replaced with a filling.
For severely progressed cavities, the tooth may not be salvageable. In this case, a dentist will need to perform a tooth extraction and will need to replace the tooth with a dental implant or bridge.
Cavity Filling in Arlington, VA
If you are suffering from a cavity, call CNS Dental to get it treated immediately. Getting your cavity treated at an earlier stage will lead to a much less invasive and expensive procedure, but even treating later stage cavities will have great benefit to your overall oral health.