We throw the word ‘cavity’ around a lot nowadays. It’s a firm favourite for chiding children with – telling them to not eat sugary sweets and clean their teeth or they will get cavities. But how much do you really know about cavities, what causes them and how to prevent them?
First Off – What Is A Cavity?
Put simply – a cavity is a hole in the 2 outer layers of the tooth, known as the enamel and the dentin. The enamel of a tooth is the hard white outer surface of the tooth we can see, and the dentin is a yellow layer of bony tissue under the enamel. Both of these layers are protection for the inner living tissue, nerves and blood vessels of your tooth – otherwise known as the pulp. Cavities are incredibly common, and affect over 90% of the general population at some point in their lives. While small cavities are painless and will generally go unnoticed until a dental check-up, bigger cavities can cause problems. The bigger holes can collect food and other things, developing bacteria and becoming irritated and infected. This can cause pain, increased sensitivity to hot and cold, or soreness after eating sweet things. The pain related to cavities is the number 1 reason most people go to see a dentist.
What Causes Cavities?
In 1 word – bacteria. Now, not all bacteria are bad, and our mouths are full of it normally. Most of these bacteria is good and allows us to break down food and stops our breath smelling. However, some of these bacteria feed on simple sugars, like the kind we eat every day, and convert it into acid plaque. Unfortunately, these are also the sorts of bacteria that like to attach themselves to the hard enamel layer. When they convert sugar to acid plaque, this plaque softens the enamel and dentin layers. These softened areas are then dissolved by our saliva, leaving a hole in the tooth. If not treated this can escalate and start damaging the inner pulp of the tooth, leading to infection, tooth abscesses and even tooth death.
How Do I Know If I Have A Cavity?
Most people only find out that they have a cavity when they go to a dentist. That’s because without our torch and microscope it’s very difficult to see these tiny holes, and they go unnoticed. At a certain stage, the cavity will start to cause pain. This is typically characterised by a dull ache in the tooth and jaw, increased sensitivity to hot and cold and shooting pains after eating particularly sweet things. If in doubt – go to see your dentist for a check up.
How Do You Prevent Cavities?
The simplest way to prevent cavities is to consume less sugar. This way the bacteria don’t have as much to feed on and can’t produce the acid plaque in damaging quantities. Taking supplements to boost calcium phosphorous, and vitamins A, D and C all help strengthen enamel formation and protect your teeth against decay. Regular at home oral hygiene is also incredibly important, as brushing teeth regularly helps reduce the acid plaque damage and flossing removes it from the smooth surfaces between the teeth – protecting from all sides. If you can, try and indulge in some self-cleaning foods after meals, like celery and apples, to remove the bacteria and acids.
What’s The Treatment?
There are a variety of treatments for cavities, and all of these depend on the severity of the hole and how long it has been there. For very early onset cavities, fluoride treatments are recommended to help restore the enamel on the tooth and harden up the defences against further decay. The most common treatment for cavities are fillings, and are reserved for when the tooth is beyond the preliminary stages and a hole has formed. A filling will fill the hole and plug the gap with a variety of materials, after the area has been cleaned and sterilised. If the cavity has progressed even further, a full crown, root canal or even tooth extraction treatment might be necessary.
If you think you might have a cavity, or be at risk for one, it’s best to see your dentist as soon as possible. They can not only give your teeth a good clean and remove all of the bacteria and acid plaque from your teeth, but also identify cavities quickly and recommend treatment to stop them getting worse. If you catch them early enough, this could just involve using fluoride gel for a while, so it’s definitely worth a visit! To book your appointment with us, click here.