Most of us have had at least one. Some of us have quite a few. And along with a cavity comes a number of questions for our dentist about their cause, damage, treatment, and prevention. Let’s take a look at the top 5 frequently questions about cavities.
What causes cavities? As their name suggests, cavities are holes that form in the teeth as a result of bacteria and acid eating away at the enamel, which is the natural protective layer around teeth. Without proper dental care at home and regular dentist visits, bacteria will fester and cause decay, and the risk of cavities will soar. If the cavity isn’t treated immediately, it will get bigger and enter the underlying dentin. If infection then sets in, it will make its way to the bone of the gum, resulting in an abscess, which can be very painful. And, fortunately, avoidable.
There are many causes for cavities, but a diet high in sugar and insufficient oral hygiene are the main culprits. The combination of food residue lodged in the teeth and the bacteria already present in the mouth is the perfect breeding ground for cavities, which is why it’s so important to brush after eating.
How do you know if you have a cavity? Symptoms are fairly variable and depend on the stage of the cavity and the state of infection. Initially, a cavity may go unnoticed, but as it progresses, it can cause a toothache that intensifies over time, pain when chewing or biting down, sensitivity to heat, cold and sweets, discoloration on the surface of the tooth, accumulation of pus around the tooth, which is a sign of infection.
What are the treatments? If treated in time, a cavity will only require a filling. The dentist will remove the decay and fill it with a metal alloy amalgam or with a white resin composite. But if the cavity has reached an advanced stage, it may require a root canal and crown. In the worst-case scenario, if the infection has destroyed a significant portion of the root, the dentist may have to extract the tooth. The missing tooth can then be replaced with a bridge or an implant.
Will getting a cavity filled hurt? How safe are dental x-rays? These are 2 questions that very often are asked together, as both address some significant personal health concerns. Fortunately, there’s no need to be anxious about either one. Typically, the area around the tooth is numbed with novacaine before fillings or other dental work. This ensures that there’s no pain or discomfort during treatment. The dentist will usually swap the area with a numbing gel before injecting the novacaine, which lessens the needle’s sensation. The novacaine’s effects will last for several hours. And regarding x-rays: dental x-rays are very safe. The amount of radiation from a dental x-ray is similar to that received in a cross-country jet flight. Radiation is measured in millirems, and one dental x-ray has only .5 millirems, a miniscule amount.
How can you prevent cavities? Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent cavities with simple daily habits like brushing your teeth at least twice a day, preferably after each meal, using dental floss, and adopting a healthy diet low in sugar.
Brushing, flossing, and regular dentist visits are your very effective pathways to cavity prevention and great dental health.