Cavities are small, but they can cause big problems for the health of your teeth, mouth, or even other areas of your body. Cavities start as tiny areas of corrosion on the surface of your teeth, and can cause pain, increased sensitivity, and even eventual tooth loss. Everyone is susceptible to cavities, not just children, and once you have one you’ll need a dentist’s expertise to treat it before it gets worse. The good news is cavities can easily be prevented by following some basic dental hygiene practices and avoiding certain foods.
What Does a Cavity Look Like?
Just like its name suggests, a cavity is a small hole in the outer layer of your tooth (called the enamel). The enamel is a hard surface that protects the spongy inner material of your tooth (called the dentin). Cavities happen when a buildup of sticky, bacteria riddled film called plaque builds up on the teeth. The bacteria feed on leftover food particles present in your mouth and secrete a type of acid that can wear away at your enamel over time.
A cavity might not look like anything at first, and often requires the use of x-ray imaging to identify. However, cavities can get worse if left untreated, and can grow into a visible hole in your tooth. Cavities of any size present a real threat to the health of your tooth, as they allow bacteria and other materials to access the sensitive nerve ending inside your tooth, causing pain and potential infection.
What Are Cavity Symptoms?
Cavities often present with certain symptoms that you should be on the lookout for, including:
Cavities can cause pain in the affected tooth, which may feel like a dull, constant ache, or sharp bursts of pain that come and go. Pain can also increase over time as the cavity grows and affects more of the tooth and can be especially painful if they cause infection. At this point, your dentist may have to perform a procedure known as a root canal to remove the infected tissue.
Because cavities expose the sensitive nerve ending inside of the tooth to external stimuli, the affected tooth may be especially sensitive to changes in temperature—like eating hot soup or drinking iced coffee—and the sensation may linger for some time after exposure. Cavities can also create an increased sensitivity to sweets like sugary candies or drinks as acid-producing bacteria especially love sugar.
As the cavity begins to decay the enamel, you may notice spots of discoloration around the tooth that start out white and darken over time. This is due to changes in the enamel composition and affected blood supply to the tooth over time.
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to contact your dentist right away.
Can You Reverse a Cavity?
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse tooth decay once it starts. If you suspect you might have a cavity, you’ll need to see a dentist to stop the decay before it gets worse. The most common treatment for cavities is a procedure called a filling, wherein your dentist will numb the tooth with a local anesthetic before drilling away the area around the cavity and sealing the resulting gap with corrosion-proof material. Once in place, a filling will stop a cavity from spreading to the nerve of the tooth and causing further damage to the tooth or gum line.
How to Prevent Cavities
While cavities are a nuisance at best and potentially dangerous at their worst, some basic preventive dental care can stop them from developing at all. Some of the best tips to prevent cavities are:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, a natural chemical which hardens the enamel around your teeth.
- Establish a regular daily flossing routine, taking care to remove pieces of food or plaque that are stuck between your teeth.
- Drink water to help rehydrate your body and mouth and increase saliva flow. Dry mouth can lead to increased instances of cavities.
- Cut back on sugary foods and drinks, especially soda.
And perhaps the most important thing you can do to prevent cavities is to see your dentist a minimum of every six months for a checkup and cavity inspection. Using X-ray imaging or other diagnostic tools, your dentist can tell you if you have a cavity before it grows larger and/or more painful and perform a filling procedure to stop it from compromising your health.
If you live in Northern Nevada and require cavity treatment or other dental services in South Reno or in Sparks, visit Champagne Family Dentistry and ask about our monthly membership plans for savings on treatment!