Cavity Prevention and Treatment 101
What exactly are cavities and where do they come from? Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the surface of your teeth. You may hear your dentist refer to them as decay or carries. They form due to a combination of several factors. Normally, your mouth is filled with numerous types of bacteria at all times. Some of the bacteria can be harmful, but most are not, and some are even beneficial. Certain types of bacteria attach themselves to hard surfaces, like your tooth enamel. Enamel is the hard, outside covering of your teeth. These bacteria can be removed by brushing and flossing, but if they are not removed they will continue to multiply and form a colony which attracts other bacteria. Proteins produced in your saliva then mix with the bacteria and form a white substance called plaque. Plaque causes cavities by producing acid that dissolves the minerals that make your tooth enamel hard. The acid produced by plaque feeds on sugar, which is why your dentist recommends that you limit sugary foods and drinks. Meanwhile, the acid continues to dissolve the tooth enamel, making it porous, as small holes appear. Eventually, the acid eats away the enamel between the small holes making it one large hole called a cavity. If a cavity isn’t treated it will continue to grow and affect deeper layers of the tooth. This can lead to painful toothaches, infection and even loss of the tooth.
The best way to fight cavities is with good dental hygiene. This includes brushing, flossing, and having regular dental exams so that he or she can remove the plaque you can’t reach with your toothbrush or dental floss, before a cavity forms.
At a dental exam in Glendale, Arizona, your dentist will examine your mouth and teeth using a dental mirror and probe. He or she may use the probe to look for soft areas. You may also have X-rays, which can show cavities between teeth that are not easily visible.
The symptoms of cavities and tooth decay can vary greatly, depending on their location and the extent of the damage to the tooth. In the beginning you may not have any symptoms at all. The nerve fibers that send pain signals through the body are not present in tooth enamel, so when the acid begins dissolving the enamel you will be unaware of it. Dentin is the substance underneath the enamel; it is softer and less resistant to acid than the enamel. Dentin does contain nerve fibers, so when a cavity reaches the dentin it begins to send out pain signals, but by then you already have a cavity. If the tooth decay is left untreated, the bacteria and acid continue their destruction through your tooth, moving on to the inner tooth called the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The pulp will become swollen and infected from the bacteria. The bone of the jaw supporting your tooth also may be affected. When decay becomes this advanced, you may experience severe tooth pain, sensitivity, and other symptoms. As your body attempts to fight these bacteria you may develop a tooth abscess.
The treatment of a cavity depends on the severity. In the earliest stage a cavity may appear as a chalky white patch on a tooth, an indication of the demineralization of the enamel. Before the cavity forms the process may be reversible, but once a cavity forms it is too late. Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen and repair teeth. If a cavity is just getting started, a professional fluoride treatment may be able to help restore your tooth’s enamel. The professional strength fluoride treatment administered by your dentist contains more fluoride than the amount found in toothpastes and mouth washes.
Once a cavity has developed a filling is required. Your dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth, and then fill in the hole with a specialized dental material to restore the shape of your tooth. Fillings can be made of various materials, such as tooth colored composite resins, porcelain, or silver amalgam. Though inexpensive, some people fear using amalgam fillings due to the small amounts of mercury they contain. Medical studies have shown these fillings to be safe, but they remain controversial.
If the decay is so extensive as to have weakened the tooth too much for a filling, the next step is a crown. A crown is a custom fitted covering that completely covers the tooth. It will be necessary for your dentist to remove all the decayed area and some of the rest of your tooth to ensure the crown fits properly. The crown is then bonded to the tooth. Crowns can be made from many materials, such as porcelain, gold, or a combination of materials.
When decay reaches the pulp of your tooth you may need endodontic treatment, commonly called a root canal. A root canal is a procedure in which the tooth pulp is removed and replaced with a filling. When the tooth pulp is removed the blood and nerve supply are cut off and the space they previously occupied is cleansed and filled to prevent future infection. Even if there is enough tooth left to be restored, a crown is recommended since after root canal therapy is performed, a tooth becomes weaker and prone to fracture.
In the worst case scenario, a tooth can become so decayed that any type of restoration is impossible, and the tooth must be extracted. It is recommended that you replace the missing tooth with a dental bridge or implant to prevent your remaining teeth from shifting.
Cavities, tooth and gum disease are among the world’s most common health problems. They are also among the most preventable if dental care is available, as it is in Glendale, Arizona.
Phone: (623) 979-1515
Fax: (623) 878-1811