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  • Writer's pictureLaurenWallace

Cavity 101

What is a Cavity? 

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Tooth decay is the softening of your tooth enamel and refers to the damage of the structure of the tooth caused by acids that are created when plaque bacteria break down sugar in your mouth. If this loss of mineral from the enamel is left untreated, a cavity, or hole in the tooth, can eventually occur. Without treatment, these holes can grow larger over time and may even destroy the whole tooth.  

The plaque acids can also eat away at the next layer of the tooth (dentin) and eventually cause what is known as a root cavity. As a result, nerves in your teeth become exposed and you may feel pain when you eat or drink. If you feel pain near the root of your tooth, chances are you may have some form of tooth decay and should consult with a dental professional.  

Taking good care of your teeth is an important part of maintaining your overall health and wellness, and that includes preventing the dreaded dental cavity. A dental cavity is one of the most common results of tooth decay and could be a sign of poor oral health and hygiene. 

Causes of Cavities and Tooth Decay 

There are a number of steps required for cavities to form, starting from the loss of tooth mineral (demineralization) to eating all the way through the tooth to cause a cavity. Tooth decay also occurs when foods containing carbohydrates become trapped between teeth and are not completely removed with brushing and flossing.  

Major causes of tooth decay are sugary, sticky foods and beverages. The more sugar consumed, the more acid, which gets produced leading to decay. Sugar combines with plaque to weaken the enamel leaving you vulnerable to tooth decay. Each time you eat a sugary snack, your teeth are vulnerable to damage from the acids for the next 20 minutes. It is important to understand the causes of tooth decay so you can learn the proper way to care for your teeth and care for your health. Cavity and tooth decay factors to watch out for:

Poor Oral Hygiene:  Not brushing your teeth regularly allows plaque to build up and attack the tooth enamel. Plaque Formation:  Plaque is caused when bacteria, acid, food particles, and saliva all combine in your mouth. This plaque adheres to your teeth and builds up over time. The acid in plaque attacks the enamel of your tooth and eventually can cause holes in your teeth, otherwise known as cavities. Dry Mouth:  Saliva helps wash plaque from the teeth. If you have a dry mouth with very little saliva, plaque may build up more quickly. Eating and Drinking:  This is where it all begins. Since we all have to eat and drink to live, there’s no way to avoid this, but it does play a significant role in the formation of cavities. When you eat or drink, carbohydrates remain on your teeth until you brush. Even after brushing, you may not be able to remove all food particles or carbohydrates from your teeth. Foods that tend to cling to your teeth can increase your risk for a tooth cavity. Be sure to brush your teeth regularly, especially after drinking milk or soda, or after eating dried fruit, dry cereal, hard candy, caramel, taffy, raisins, sugary cereals, cookies and breath mints. Bacteria and Acid:  While most people don’t like to think about it, bacteria naturally live in your mouth. When these bacteria digest the carbohydrates that linger on your teeth and in your mouth, acid forms. Medical Problems:  can contribute to a tooth cavity by causing acid from your stomach to flow back into your mouth. Similarly, bulimia increases the risk of a tooth cavity when the teeth are exposed to stomach acid during frequent vomiting. In addition, some types of cancer treatment that expose the head and neck to radiation can promote a tooth cavity by changing the makeup of the saliva to promote increased bacterial growth. 

The good news is that Crest® Complete with Sugar Shield™ can help reduce the cavity causing effects of sugar on your teeth, and also strengthen areas that have been weakened by sugar*. Every Crest® Complete Toothpaste has Sugar Shield™ to help protect your family’s teeth from everyday sugar.* With Crest® Complete with Sugar Shield™ as part of your oral care routine, you can still indulge your sweet tooth every now and then. For the protection of Sugar Shield™ technology, plus whiter teeth and fresh breath, check out Crest® Complete Whitening + Scope®.

*Sugar’s cavity causing effects 

Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay and Cavities 

As tooth decay progresses, cavity symptoms start to appear. If you notice any of these common cavity symptoms, see your dentist as soon as possible. The earlier symptoms are identified, the quicker and easier the cavity treatment will be. Tune in to your teeth, and be on the lookout for these cavity symptoms: 

Pain: A toothache is one of the most common cavity symptoms. Pressure: Both increased tooth sensitivity and pain when biting down can indicate a cavity. Pits: Cavity symptoms may include a noticeable hole or pit in the affected tooth. Sometimes the holes are only visible on a dental x-ray. Pus:  One of the more serious and obvious cavity symptoms is pus around a tooth.  

Other common signs of a cavity that you will likely notice on your own include a toothache or sensitive teeth—particularly when eating sweet, hot or cold foods or drinks. These signs of a cavity are usually associated with advanced tooth decay and therefore require immediate attention from a dental professional. 

How to Prevent Tooth Decay and Cavities

Just as you learned from your dentist at an early age, prevention is the best way to avoid a cavity. There are many measures you can take to help prevent the formation of a dental cavity or other types of tooth decay and damage. The first step in preventing a dental cavity is to start and keep up with a comprehensive oral hygiene routine. While this can sound overwhelming, once it becomes a habit, you’ll be pleased to enjoy the healthy mouth and beautiful smile that comes with good oral hygiene. While there are many options for oral hygiene these days, here is a basic checklist of the core items you’ll need to incorporate into your daily routine to help prevent a dental cavity.

When you head to the drug store, take this handy list to help get you started on the path to better oral health and hygiene—and the prevention of a dental cavity. 

Toothbrush: Everyone knows you need a toothbrush to keep your teeth clean, but many don’t give the variety of toothbrushes much thought. While there are hundreds of options available, look carefully to find a toothbrush that can reach all the surfaces of your teeth. It’s also a good idea to find a brush that includes a textured tongue cleaner, since bacteria that cause oral malodor often live on your tongue. Specialized toothbrushes such as the Oral-B CrossAction Pro-Health Brush Heads feature bristles designed to get in hard-to-reach areas and stimulate gums. Toothpaste: This is a critical component of your oral hygiene routine for prevention of a dental cavity. While dozens of products are available, most dentists recommend selecting a product that is accepted by the American Dental Association (ADA). Crest Pro-Health Toothpastes are the first and only that are ADA-approved for six areas: cavities, gingivitis, plaque, whitening, sensitivity, and bad breath. All Crest Pro-Health toothpastes are triclosan free. Dental Floss: Flossing on a regular basis is very important. By removing food particles from your teeth, flossing can help prevent dental cavities. Many people find that flossing, particularly in tight spaces, is facilitated with a floss like Oral-B Glide floss. Mouthwash: Mouthwash is often the final step in an effective daily oral hygiene routine. Not only does the use of a therapeutic mouth rinse leave your mouth feeling clean and your breath fresh, it kills the bacteria that can cause plaque and gingivitis. While many people don’t like to use an alcohol containing mouth rinse because of the burn from the alcohol, the entire Crest Pro-Health line of mouth rinses is alcohol-free.  

Establish an Oral Hygiene Routine

There are a number of important steps involved in keeping your teeth and mouth healthy from cavities and tooth decay. Taking good care of your teeth can help prevent tooth decay and ultimately cavities. Adhering to a comprehensive oral hygiene regimen is the first step to good oral health. Here are some important tips to help prevent tooth decay and cavities. 

Brush more often: Just because your dentist says to brush twice a day doesn’t mean you have to stop there. One great way to prevent the formation of plaque that causes cavities is to brush after every meal or snack. This is the golden rule of oral hygiene. Brushing after you eat or drink with a fluoride-based toothpaste can help keep your teeth clean and free of plaque that leads to tooth decay and cavities.  Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks: Candy, sodas and other sugary foods contain sugars that help plaque-forming bacteria survive in your mouth. In addition, sugary foods or candies that stay in your mouth for longer periods of time can also have a greater impact in the formation of plaque and tooth decay. If you do indulge, brush your teeth after eating to help prevent the progression of tooth decay. Watch What You Eat: Foods that get stuck in your teeth, such as chips, candies, or cookies can also aggravate tooth decay. Opt to snack on raw fruits and vegetables as much as possible because they can actually help remove plaque by naturally “scrubbing” your teeth. They're also healthier for your body. Floss and Rinse daily: While good brushing is critical, it won’t necessarily do the job alone. Flossing daily and using a mouth rinse that protects against plaque build-up will help reduce your risk for developing problems. Flossing removes the food particles that get lodged in between your teeth and slowly cause plaque build-up that leads to cavities. Protect Your Teeth with Fluoride: Protection is key in preventing tooth cavities; fluoride is known to prevent tooth decay. Ensure your water contains a safe level of fluoride, and use products that contain fluoride. Crest Pro-Health Enamel Shield Toothpaste can help protect against tooth enamel loss. Products such as Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection Mouthwash can help protect against plaque and gingivitis while you sleep. Rinse right before you go to bed and it will work all night. When used again in the morning, it provides 24-hour protection to help kill germs, prevent gingivitis, and freshen breath. Visit Your Dentist: No matter how diligent you are about your daily oral hygiene routine, see a professional twice a year for routine cleanings and exams. Having your teeth professionally cleaned will remove plaque and tartar that you can’t remove with over-the-counter products and tools. 

Taking good care of your teeth can help prevent tooth decay and ultimately cavities. Adhering to a comprehensive oral hygiene regimen is the first step to good oral health. Here are some important tips to help prevent tooth decay and cavities. r

Cavity and Tooth Decay Treatment

Even the healthiest, most dedicated oral hygiene fanatics will most likely get at least one or two tooth cavities over their lifetime—even your dentist will likely get a cavity at some point. So, while preventing tooth cavities is ideal, don’t worry too much if you do get diagnosed with tooth cavities. The key is to find them early and treat them quickly.

While it’s best to avoid getting them altogether, cavities are fairly simple to treat. The most basic form of treatment for a cavity is a filling, which is when the decayed portion of the tooth is drilled away and replaced with a strong filling made of either composite resins, porcelain, silver, gold, or amalgam. Treatment for more extensive cavities includes advanced techniques such as crowns and root canals. Fillings will stop the cavity from growing any larger. So if you are experiencing any signs of tooth decay or a cavity, it is extremely important to see a dental professional immediately for treatment.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps one of the most dreaded phrases a child can hear a dentist say during a regular check-up is “You have a cavity.” Most of us learned about oral health, preventing tooth decay and cavities at a very young age. However, adults can get cavities, too. While people typically think of cavities mostly impacting children, adults often get cavities as their teeth age and decay over the years. 

In order to keep your mouth healthy throughout your life, learn what causes a cavity, what a cavity is and the impact even a single cavity can have on your long-term oral health. 

Questions Related to Cavities and Tooth Decay

Q: What type of filling should I get? A: There are numerous types of materials used for cavity treatment. The most common types include amalgam and composite. Ask your dentist what they recommend and do your research to determine which you might prefer.

Q: What type of treatment will my dentist use to help me avoid discomfort? A: Depending on the complexity of the cavity treatment you need, your dentist may simply administer a local anesthetic to numb your teeth and gums, or they may choose to administer nitrous oxide gas. For really complex procedures, the dentist may even completely sedate you.

Q: Can a cavity be fully treated in one visit? A: Heavily decayed teeth may need more than a traditional filling for cavity treatment. These procedures include inlays, on-lays, veneers, crowns and bridges. Your first visit will include a fitting for the cavity treatment and the second appointment is for the actual procedure.

Q: How long will the treatment take take? A: The length of your visit will vary greatly depending on the type of cavity treatment and also on the type of sedative or anesthetic you are given. Ask your dentist how long the procedure should last.

Q: How much will it cost? A:Cost will also vary greatly depending on your insurance coverage, type of cavity treatment and type of anesthetic. You can work with your dentist and insurance provider prior to the cavity treatment to get an estimate of the total cost.




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