When it comes to dental care, it is too easy to fall into a routine of doing the bare minimum — brushing your teeth in the morning and at night. But while doing so is better than not taking care of your teeth at all, it doesn’t really do much for your overall oral hygiene. In turn, this could lead to a wide range of issues — including halitosis, gingivitis, and cavities. But, what, exactly, is a dental cavity? What are the symptoms? And, what can you do to treat them?
What is a dental cavity?
To understand cavities, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the anatomy of a tooth. Teeth are composed of four layers, and each of them plays a role in the health of your pearly whites.
The enamel is the outer layer of your teeth — and the hardest part. It exists to protect your teeth from acids and bacteria. It doesn’t contain any regenerating cells, so if a portion of it is lost, it’s lost forever.
The dentin is the layer underneath the enamel, and it’s what takes up the most space in a tooth. Whenever a person experiences tooth sensitivity, it’s because a portion of the enamel has eroded, leaving some of the dentin exposed — allowing cold and hot substances to reach nerve endings.
Underneath the dentin is the pulp. It is made out of soft tissue, and it is where all the blood vessels and nerves are located. Finally, the innermost layer is the cementum, which covers the roots of your teeth and attaches them to your jawbone.
A dental cavity occurs when the layers of your teeth become damaged. It starts affecting one layer at a time. The more layers become affected, the more intense the pain. If the cavity reaches the pulp, the pain becomes extremely painful.
What are the three types of dental cavities?
1. Occlusal or Smooth-Surface Cavities
An occlusal cavity has only affected the enamel. Symptoms include a foul taste in your mouth, chronic bad breath, painful chewing, swelling of the gums surrounding that tooth, and tiny holes on the tooth. They usually occur on molars (the teeth in the back of your mouth) because they are harder to brush — therefore, easier to leave bacteria behind.
Occlusal cavities can be treated with a fluoride treatment. Although some toothpastes and tap water contain fluoride, professional treatments contain the higher levels you would need for it to be effective.
2. Pit and Fissure Cavity
Pit and fissure cavities affect the deep grooves on your molars. These types of cavities are more common in people who don’t brush their teeth as often as they should — since failing to do so ensures that food particles and plaque accumulate in these grooves. With time, these particles and film start decaying, leading to cavities.
Pit and fissure cavities can be treated with dental sealants. These are thin coatings that a dentist places on the surface of the teeth to prevent continued tooth decay. It bonds into the grooves of the teeth and acts as a shield for the underlying layers.
3. Root Cavity
Root cavities develop — you guessed it — at the root of your teeth, and are located below the gums. When a person has a root cavity, the acids affect the cementum. They are more likely to occur in people with receding gums, which could be due to poor oral health or aging. This type of cavity develops at a faster rate than the other types of cavities.
Root cavities are treated by removing the decayed area of the tooth and filling the affected portion with composite resin. If the cavity is affecting the pulp, the damaged area can be eliminated by a root canal. During this procedure, a dentist would take out the affected portions of the pulp, clean the area, and seal it to protect it from infection. On the other hand, if the root cavity is detected early on, your dentist may be able to stop the decay process by doing a deep cleaning to remove plaque and by applying a fluoride treatment.
How To Prevent Dental Cavities
Good oral hygiene is crucial to prevent dental cavities. It may take extra time to do so, but they’re relatively simple tasks that will save you a lot of pain, misery, and money in the long run. These include:
- Brushing your teeth after every meal — or at a minimum, twice a day — for two full minutes each time.
- Flossing every day before going to bed.
- Replacing your toothbrush every three months.
- Limiting or avoid sugary drinks. If you don’t want to do so, brush your teeth afterward.
- Scheduling regular dentist appointments for cleanings. Generally, it should be twice a year, but your dentist may recommend three times a year, depending on your circumstances.
If You Have a Dental Cavity, Let Us Help You
At St. Hope, we serve many patients living with a myriad of medical conditions. We believe that treating people with compassion is as important as the medicine they receive. We foster a trusting patient/medical provider relationship to ensure that everyone who walks through our doors feels comfortable and receives the care they deserve — and we do so in-person and online.