What is a Cavity?
Cavities, also known as dental caries are a result of tooth decay. Over a period of time, decay in the tooth leads to the development of holes in the teeth that deepen, sometimes all the way to the root.
If detected early, cavities can be prevented.
How Do Cavities Develop?
Cavities develop as the tooth decay is exposed to acids produced by oral bacteria. Frequent exposure to these acidic by-products causes the breakdown of the mineral of the teeth.
A white spot occurs in the place where the minerals have been lost.(1)
Tooth decay occurs in five stages:
- Demineralization: This is the first stage of tooth decay. It occurs when the enamel of the tooth is exposed to acid from the bacterium that interacts with sugar and starches.
- Enamel Decay: This the second stage of decay in which the enamel continues to break. During this stage, holes can form in the teeth.
- Dentin Decay: In this third stage of tooth decay, dentin that is the soft tissue underneath the enamel is affected. It is the time when the cavity starts getting painful.
- Pulp Decay: This is the final stage of decay when the decay has reached the pulp where the nerves and the blood vessels are present. It is the time when the inflammation is at its extreme.
- Abscesses: When the bacteria inside the cavity spread beneath the pulp and form pus-filled pockets. The tooth abscess is sometimes extremely painful and in some cases, it goes unnoticed.
How quickly a cavity develops greatly depends on the tooth hygiene of a person.
Is It Possible To Reverse A Cavity?
It is possible to reverse a cavity if it is treated in the early stages i.e. in the demineralization process, the first stage of tooth decay.
Good oral hygiene can help restore the minerals, stopping the decay. This includes regular flossing and brushing as frequent exposure to fluoride (a mineral that strengthens the tooth enamel) can minimize the risk of decay.
In some cases, cavities cannot be prevented, even by improving oral hygiene. In these cases, treatment of the cavity is done depending on the stage of tooth decay.
Treatment of Cavity :
Treatment options of cavities include:
For smaller cavities, resin or composite filling is done. This would prevent bacterial build-up and stop the decay process.
Inlays or Onlays
This is an option used when the cavities are too large to be filled by fillings.
If the cavity has affected a larger portion of the tooth, metal or porcelain crown is necessary.
When the pulp is damaged or infected, root canal treatment is done. In the procedure, filling material is inserted into the inner part of the tooth.
If the tooth decay has reached an extent that it cannot be treated at all, extraction of the tooth is done.
How To Prevent A Cavity From Forming?
Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent cavities from forming. There are a few important steps that can be considered for proper oral hygiene.
- Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. This would prevent the plaque build-up and repair any damage at its early.
- Floss the teeth once every day to prevent plaque build-up from in between the teeth. You can do it every night before going to bed.
- You can drink fluoridated water to increase fluoride exposure.(2) You can consult a dentist for fluoride treatment as fluoride hardens the enamel protecting it from decay.(3)
- Limit the exposure of teeth to starchy products and starchy foods as they contribute to tooth decay. If you eat such foods make sure you brush your teeth thereafter.
- Visit a dentist once in 6 months or more if recommended by him.
- If you have a cavity, do not delay the treatment to prevent further decay down the teeth.
When To See A Dentist?
Developing a white spot on the tooth is the first sign of developing a cavity. This can further deepen and turn brown and black.
Other symptoms of the cavity are:
- The sensitivity of tooth to cold and hot foods and drinks
- Sensitivity on eating sweets
- Pain in chewing and biting
- Toothaches, especially when eating
The beginning of the cavity can be reversed by taking steps towards good oral hygiene. Early demineralization and fluoride exposure can help prevent or reverse tooth decay.