What Are Cavities?

Dental cavities — also known as “caries” — are extremely common. According to a survey by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 92% of adults 20 to 64 have had dental cavities. Most people know that cavities mean tooth decay, but how do cavities actually occur? Read on to learn what causes cavities, how they are treated, and how to prevent them.

What Causes Cavities?

Plaque is the sticky film of bacteria that collects on teeth, especially around the gumline and on the chewing surfaces of the molars at the back of the mouth. When bacteria in the plaque comes into contact with sugar in your diet, the bacteria release an acidic byproduct that destroys tooth enamel and causes decay. (Keep in mind that this sugar can be found in many foods and beverages, not just candy. Bacteria can easily break down and eat refined carbohydrates like white bread, potato chips, white pasta, and white rice, as well as sugary beverages like soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks.) If the decay continues to progress, it becomes a hole, or cavity, that can reach through the outer enamel layer, middle dentin layer, and down to the tooth’s inner pulp.

Aerial view of a cluster of cavity-causing sugary candy, including a candy cane, lollipop, and gumdrops

How Do I Know If I Have a Cavity?

Early stages of decay often present with no symptoms and are only identified with dental X-rays and a visual examination by a dentist. These soft spots can often be remineralized and reversed with superb oral hygiene, adequate exposure to fluoride, and a healthy diet. However, signs of advanced decay can sometimes be noticed at home. Red flags may include tooth pain, bad breath, abnormally white or dark spots, discomfort when biting down on hard or chewy foods, and sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages.

How Are Cavities Treated?

If cavities are detected while they are small, they can simply be drilled, cleaned out, and filled by one of our expert dentists. But if a cavity is very large and the tooth will be too compromised to properly hold a filling, the tooth must be restored with a dental crown. And if the decay is extremely advanced and/or the inside of your tooth is infected, root canal therapy will be needed to preserve the tooth and provide a healthy foundation to hold the crown.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

Brushing your teeth twice per day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing once per day are the easiest things you can do to prevent cavities. Moreover, eat nutritious and balanced meals, limit your consumption of sugary foods and beverages, and avoid frequent snacking and chronic sipping of sugary and acidic beverages, like soda. For those who are particularly prone to getting cavities, supplemental fluoride treatments, a fluoride mouthwash, and dental sealants can help. And of course, having regular checkups and professional cleanings are crucial to maintaining good oral health.

We Can Help Your Mouth Stay Cavity-Free!

Keep up with your biannual checkups to be sure you don’t have any cavities that need treatment. Contact us today to set up an appointment here at our Littleton dental office.

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Summit Family Dentistry

Summit Family Dentistry