Tooth Cavities – Tooth Caries – Tooth Decay
Tooth Cavities, also called caries or tooth decay are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of the teeth that develop into tiny holes or openings. They are caused due to several factors, including bacteria present in the mouth, improper cleaning of the teeth, frequent snacking and high consumption of sugary drinks. Tooth Cavities are common health problems among children, teenagers and older adults. However, infants also develop cavities at times. If cavities are not treated, they affect deeper layers of the teeth, leading to severe infections, toothache and tooth loss. Regular dental checkups and good amount of brushing and flossing habits will help in preventing cavities and tooth decay.
Causes of Tooth Cavities
Tooth Cavities occur as a result of tooth decay. It begins with bacteria damaging the enamel (hard surface) of the teeth, which occurs without any noticeable discomfort. Decay then progresses to deep layers of the teeth in the following steps:
Step 1: Plaque forms
The mouth, just like any other part of the human body, contains many types of bacteria. These bacteria grow on food and drinks that contain some forms of sugars, which are known as fermentable carbohydrates. When these sugars are not cleaned properly from teeth, the bacteria start feeding on them, thus producing acids. The bacteria, food particles, acids and saliva then begin to form a dental plaque that coats your teeth. You may be able to feel this plaque when you run your tongue along your teeth.
Step 2: Plaque attacks
The acids in dental plaque removes the minerals from tooth’s outer enamel. This therefore causes tiny pores or openings in the enamel. Once the enamel starts to wear away, the acid and bacteria then reaches next teeth layer, called dentin. This layer is softer and less resistant to acid than enamel layer.
Step 3: Destruction continues
As tooth decay progresses, the acid and bacteria continue through the teeth, moving to inner pulp which contains nerves and blood vessels. The pulp becomes irritated and swollen and even the bone supporting the teeth weakens. At this stage, you may feel severe toothache, pain while biting food, sensitivity and many other symptoms. The body responds to this by sending white blood cells to combat the infection. This leads to tooth abscess.
Symptoms of Tooth Cavities
The signs and symptoms depend on the extent and location of the cavities. In the beginning of tooth decay, you may not experience any symptom, however as the decay progresses, symptoms develop. Symptoms of cavities include:
- Pain when eating or drinking something cold, hot or sweet
- Tooth sensitivity
- Visible openings or pores in the teeth
- Pain while biting
- Pus formation on the gums
Treatment for Tooth Cavities
There are various treatments for cavities depending on the amount of decay.
Tooth Fillings – If the decay is not extensive, the decayed area is removed by drilling and replaced by a filling made of alloy, silver, porcelain, gold or composite resin. Certain concerns were raised over the safety of silver, mercury based amalgams, and however the American Dental Association (ADA), FDA and other health agencies raised their support for this material’s safety.
Dental Crowns – If you have extensive decay or weakened teeth, then crowns are used. The decayed or weakened tooth part is removed, repaired and then a crown is fitted over the remainder of the tooth. Crowns are made of porcelain, gold or porcelain fused with metal.
Root canals – When the decay reaches the inner pulp, then root canals are performed. In this case, the center of the tooth is removed including the nerves, blood vessels and tissues. The roots are then filled with a sealing material. In some cases, a crown may be placed over the sealed material.
New cavity treatments are currently under development. One such technique uses fluorescent light to identify the cavities long before they can be identified by X-rays or dental exams. If tooth cavities are detected early, the decay process can be reversed or stopped. Another smart filling technique is being researched to prevent extensive tooth decay by gradually releasing fluoride around fillings and adjacent teeth.
Care / Prevention of Tooth Cavities
Practice Oral Hygiene – Oral hygiene is prerequisite to prevent cavities. This includes regular professional cleaning (every 6 months), brushing (twice a day) and flossing (once daily). X-rays may be taken once in a year to detect any cavity development.
Avoid Snacking and Sipping – When chewy or sticky foods like candy or dried fruit are consumed, it is good to brush the teeth or rinse the mouth after eating them. Cut down snacks as they create constant supply of acids in the mouth. Avoid frequent sucking on mints, candies and sipping of sugary drinks.
Go for Dental Sealants – Dental sealants protect teeth from cavities. They are plastic like coatings applied to the chewing surface of the back teeth. They thus prevent accumulation of plaque. These are usually applied on teeth of the children soon after molars develop. Older people may also benefit.
Fluoride Treatments – Fluoride treatment is also recommended for protecting against tooth cavities. It has been studied that people on fluoride supplements or those who ingested fluoride containing water reported fewer dental cavities. Fluoride acts against the acids. Topical fluoride can be considered for protecting teeth surface. It may include fluoride toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash. Even many dentists consider topical fluoride applications to localized area of the teeth as a part of dental visits.