American Dental Care Home What Exactly Is a Cavity? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

What Exactly Is a Cavity? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Dental health is just as vital as whole-body health, yet cavities can detract from this general well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by age 8, 52% of children have a cavity in their lower teeth. The situation is no different among adults because, according to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults aged 20 to 64 has cavities. But what exactly is a cavity? Learn more about cavities, their symptoms, causes, and treatments in this detailed article.


What is a Cavity?


Before diving into treatments and symptoms, let’s answer your pressing question – what exactly is a cavity? According to the Mayo Clinic, a cavity is a permanently damaged surface on the teeth that gradually develops tiny holes or openings. If you don’t visit a dental office, these cavities develop and worsen over time. Cavities lead to multiple dental issues, such as tooth pain, discomfort, and loss.


To understand tooth cavities, it’s essential to understand the tooth structure. The outermost layer of the tooth is called enamel. When exposed to acidic conditions, it can wear down, exposing the dentin to the softer layer. If cavities develop past this, they’ll go to the pulp where nerve endings are found. Cavities on the centum, which covers the teeth roots, further expose the tooth to the mouth environment.


Symptoms of Cavities


What exactly is a cavity? To answer this question satisfactorily, we must understand the symptoms that accompany cavities. You might not feel any pain if the cavity is at the enamel stage; however, if the cavity develops to the pulp and dentin, you’ll feel pain. Symptoms vary from one person to another, but the following four are the most common.


1. Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is discomfort or pain when your teeth are exposed to stimuli such as heat or cold. When cavities start forming, they lead to enamel erosion, which exposes the dentin beneath. The dentin layer has small tubules connecting to the tooth’s nerve. Hence, the tooth becomes sensitive to temperature changes and specific foods.


You’ll experience this sensitivity when eating hot, cold, sweet, and acidic foods because they trigger a sharp pain that goes away almost instantly. Tooth sensitivity can affect daily activities such as eating, drinking, and speaking. It can also cause nutritional imbalances because of avoidance of certain foods. Sensitivity is often an indication of the initial stages of cavity formation.


2. Toothache or Pain


Toothache is a persistent discomfort ranging from mild to intense and may affect daily activities. It happens because as cavities progress, they reach the deeper levels of the tooth, which allows exposure to acids and bacteria. The exposure causes pain, varying depending on which layers are exposed.


You may feel the pain as constant or triggered by chewing, biting, and drinking beverages. Severe pain signals a more advanced cavity, requiring a visit to local dentists for immediate medical attention. The dentists will help you answer your question: What exactly is a cavity?


One of the immediate effects of toothache is disruption of daily activities. Some normal activities, such as eating, will soon become sources of comfort. People with cavities alter their daily activities to avoid triggering toothache. You might also notice sleep disturbances because the pain makes it difficult to fall asleep. The discomfort may worsen when lying down.


3. Visible Holes in Teeth


Another indication of cavity development is visible holes, pits, or voids on the tooth surface. As acidic substances erode the enamel, the surface weakens and breaks down, forming these holes. The cavities will normally start as small dark spots and become larger as decay continues. Visible holes are a sign the enamel is compromised. That’s just as cars need auto services for maintenance; your teeth need regular maintenance work, including flossing and dental checkups.


Teeth with visible holes are often more sensitive to stimuli such as hot beverages. People with cavity holes find it difficult to chew, especially if the hole is in a location where the fighting force is high. That’s because cavity holes compromise the structural integrity of the tooth. If you don’t see a dentist soon, bacteria will start festering, leading to localized infections, inflammation of the gums, and even potential abscesses.


4. Discoloration on Teeth


What exactly is a cavity, and what does it look like? Apart from visible holes, cavities can result in the discoloration of tooth color to form dark or white spots. In the early stages of cavity development, teeth can lose minerals, which causes white spots. Dark spots signal more advanced decay because of cavity formation, while staining is because of bacterial byproducts. Some of these changes happen so gradually that it may be difficult to notice them instantly.


Teeth discoloration may seem like the least impact or symptom of cavity formation. Yet, the aesthetic effect may take a toll on some people. According to an older National Institutes of Health study, tooth discoloration is a source of embarrassment and psychological distress. A person’s inability to smile because of tooth discoloration is just as discomforting as tooth pain and sensitivity. Some people opt for cheap dental implants to solve the whole cavity problem.


What Causes Cavities?


What exactly is a cavity, and what causes it? Cavities, also called dental caries, are caused by a combination of mouth environment factors that facilitate tooth decay. Here are the four main causes you should consider and prevent.


1. Sugary and Acidic Diet

You’ve probably heard that excessive sugar intake is not good for your health, and this holds even for your precious teeth. You see, bacteria in the mouth metabolize sugars, which produce acids that erode the tooth enamel. Processed sugars, such as those found in sodas, cakes, and refined foods, make it easy for bacteria to break down. Acidic foods such as citrus fruits and carbonated drinks also weaken the enamel, making it susceptible to cavities.


However, it’s not only the type of food you consume that matters; it’s how frequently we consume it. Frequently consuming these acidic foods denies the mouth the chance to neutralize acids, which promotes cavity formation. Consume a wholesome diet of fresh vegetables, whole carbohydrates, and lean proteins for healthier teeth.


2. Poor Oral Hygiene Practices


You may be wondering how to prevent cavities. The best stop is to understand why it happens in the first place. The most obvious reason is poor oral hygiene practices. What’s interesting is how expensive and time-consuming dealing with the effects of poor oral hygiene is. The CDC reports that students lose 34 million school hours to preventable dental issues yearly.


Proper dental hygiene involves brushing at least twice daily with good-quality toothpaste. It also involves flossing daily to remove plaque and stuck food between teeth. These two practices should keep the cavity at bay at a basic level. Scheduling dental appointments helps catch any issue that skipped your floss and toothbrush.


3. Bacterial Growth and Plaque Formation


The mouth has two types of bacteria—good and harmful. Harmful bacteria feed on sugars and starches to produce acids that catalyze cavity formation. These bacteria combine with saliva and food particles to form plaque. A child may ask you, what exactly is cavity? To answer them, explain how bacteria contribute to the formation of plaque and, ultimately, calcified tartar. A good use of your dental insurance is removing the tartar because it contributes to cavities.


4. Dry Mouth


Saliva has a protective role of neutralizing acids and coating the enamel with minerals. Thus, it’s a natural guard against cavities. However, if the volume of saliva drops, the risk of cavity formation increases because a dry mouth promotes bacterial growth. Dry mouth is caused by certain medical conditions, medications, and dehydration. NHS Inform also cites nervousness and anxiety as a cause of dry mouth.


One of the ways you can prevent dry mouth is by regular hydration. It’s a commonly accepted fact in the medical community that you should consume 2 liters of water daily. Hydration provides the necessary moisture for salivary glands to produce saliva. Try to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine because they worsen dry mouth symptoms. If the environment is dehydrated, use humidifiers to add moisture and prevent nighttime dry mouth.


How Are Cavities Treated?


What exactly is a cavity, and how is it treated? Cavity treatment will depend on when it’s discovered. If discovered early, treatment is less expensive and less drastic. The dental professional will use the following modes of treatment for cavities.


1. Dental Fillings

The first option dentists consider is dental fillings. Fillings are suitable for moderate-sized cavities that haven’t gone deeper into the tooth. The dentists will use fillings typically made of composite resin, amalgam, or porcelain. These materials differ in price, aesthetics, and durability. Since cavities affect a significant proportion of children, pediatric dentistry has evolved to create kid-friendly dental fillings.


When you go to the dentist, they’ll remove the decayed portion of the tooth and clean the area. Next, they’ll apply the chosen filling in layers to match your tooth’s natural contours. Finally, they’ll use a curing light to restore the tooth’s function and appearance. One of the biggest advantages of dental filling is its preservation of natural tooth structure. Besides, you can get color-matched dental material.


2. Dental Crowns for Larger Cavities


A dental crown can restore a damaged tooth to its former strength. So, the next time your kid asks, ‘what exactly is a cavity and can it be treated?’ talk to them about dental crowns. Dentists use dental crowns when the cavity is extensive and the structural integrity is compromised. The advantage is their ability to restore function, support, and aesthetics to a damaged tooth.


Crowns are made from ceramics, porcelain, and metal alloys of different strengths. The dental practitioner will present you with options, and you can choose depending on aesthetics, function, and degree of strength. When you go to the dentist’s office, they’ll prepare it by removing decay and reshaping it to accommodate the crown. Next, they take an impression and fabricate a custom crown. Finally, they’ll place the tooth securely, and voila! You have a new look.


In rare cases, a doctor may perform a wrong procedure or injure you when fixing your cavities. The standard cause of action is to they’ll rectify the problem. However, you need an injury lawyer if the problem gravitates to a lawsuit and requires compensation.


3. Root Canal Treatment for Advanced Cavities


If the cavity goes past the enamel to the dentin and finally to the pulp, it can cause an infection. A root canal may be necessary to save the tooth. Unlike an extraction, a root canal preserves the natural tooth and eliminates the pain. According to the ECU School of Dentistry, 15 million root canals are performed annually in the U.S. Root canals are often the last measure to save the tooth from extraction.


The procedure is more intense than putting a crown. The dentist removes the infected pulp and cleans the root canals. Next, they fill the gap with a biocompatible material. Finally, they’ll seal the tooth with a filling or crown to prevent further infection. You’ll be under anesthesia during the procedure, and may take some time to recover. Once the procedure is over, the doctor will give me medication to manage the pain and schedule follow-ups.


4. Tooth Extraction as a Last Resort

When people ask what exactly is cavity, they may have already experienced symptoms of dental problems. Some expect cavities to be solvable problems always. However, sometimes the damage is too much, and no more can be done to save the tooth. Like a bicycle accident attorney may advise you to go to court as a last resort, your dentist may recommend a dental extraction. The tooth’s structure is beyond repair at this stage, and infection has spread extensively.


Tooth extraction is only considered after all treatments have failed to restore the tooth’s health. That’s because adult teeth don’t grow again. Your teeth should last your lifetime, so having them plucked early in life is not ideal. However, a qualified dentist will salvage the situation by carefully removing the damaged tooth before advising you on replacement options.


In conclusion, cavities are problematic dental problems that affect people of all ages. Since they progress from mild to extreme, it’s possible to get interventions before they worsen. The best strategy is to practice effective oral hygiene habits, such as regular flossing and dental check-ups. If you have noticed some symptoms of cavities, you should see a dentist as soon as possible.

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