According to the CDC, 90% of those aged 20 and up have had at least 1 cavity. That means most people reading this have had a cavity at some point in their lives. And if you’ve never had one, you’re part of the 10%.
Regardless of whether you have or haven’t had a cavity, you might be curious about them. What causes cavities? How do you fix them?
Cavities are common, and they can be painful, but they’re also curable.
You may not be sure how a cavity forms or what you should do about it, but you know one thing: You want to fix it! In this post, we’ll cover exactly how your dentist does that:
What Is a Cavity?
A cavity is a hole in your tooth. Cavities form when plaque, a sticky coating that’s full of bacteria, erodes the hard surface of your tooth. The bacteria turn sugar into acid, which demineralizes your enamel and creates what’s called tooth decay.
Over time, the tooth develops small holes. As those acids enter the underlying layer of your tooth (the dentin), the cavity gets deeper. That’s why it’s important to intervene with dental fillings early!
Signs You May Have a Cavity
If you notice any of the following signs, you may have a cavity in your mouth:
- Sensitivity when consuming hot or cold foods and drinks
- Holes in your teeth
- Visible spots that may appear brown, black, or white
- Pain when chewing
- Persistent toothaches
Your dentist can catch cavities long before these warning signs show up. During a routine check-up, they can look closely between your teeth with the help of dental x-rays. Regular dental check-ups allow your dentist to catch cavities early.
If your cavity isn’t causing you much discomfort, you may be tempted to ignore it. Don’t do this! Over time, the cavity will get deeper into the dentin. At that point, you may need a root canal to address the issue. Left untreated, a cavity can eventually cause you to need a tooth extraction. It’s much easier (and less expensive) to get a dental filling in the early stages.
Can You Fix a Cavity at Home?
If you suspect you have a cavity, here’s the good news: It’s usually a quick fix at the dentist’s office. But it’s not something you can treat at home.
As soon as the cavity progresses beneath the tooth enamel and goes into the dentin, it’s a job only a dentist can take care of.
A dental professional has the tools and expertise to remove tooth decay and fill a cavity. They’ll use a drill to remove the decayed tooth material, disinfect your tooth, and then fill the hole with a special material.
If you see a product claiming to be an at-home remedy for cavities, be skeptical!
How Your Dentist Finds a Cavity
Each time you have a cleaning at your dentist’s office, they’ll use a magnifying mirror to get a closer look at your teeth. They may also take X-rays, where cavities will appear as dark spots on your teeth. X-rays allow your dentist to find cavities that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
Once your dentist finds a cavity, they’ll put together a treatment plan for it. The right type of treatment will depend on which tooth is affected and the size of the cavity.
If the cavity is only visible through an X-ray, you may not need a filling just yet! As long as the cavity has only affected the enamel layer of your tooth, it’s possible to restore it through professional fluoride treatments and excellent dental hygiene. Your dentist may put a “watch” on it and take another look at your next cleaning.
The Most Common Dental Procedures
Dental cavities are one of the most common issues we treat at our office. At Dental House, there are two types of fillings we use to repair them:
Dental Amalgam fillings
These fillings are made of a mix of different metals (including silver, tin, elemental mercury, and copper). Amalgam fillings are durable, which is important for your molars, but they have one drawback: They don’t blend in with your surrounding teeth.
If amalgam fillings are used, they’re typically placed on molars near the back of your mouth, where they won’t look as noticeable.
At Dental House, we rarely use amalgam fillings. While they are durable, they’re also very visible in the mouth, which is not preferable for most of our patients.
Composite fillings offer comparable strength to amalgam ones. On top of that, they’re designed to match the colour of your surrounding teeth. No one will know you had a cavity filled, whether it’s your front tooth or your back molar.
How Can I Prevent a Cavity?
You know enough about tooth decay to realize you don’t want that happening in your mouth!
While you can’t fix a cavity without visiting your dentist, you can do your best to prevent them in the first place. Keep your mouth healthy with the following tips:
Chew sugar-free gum
Got a sweet tooth? Candy habits are hard to kick. If you find yourself always reaching for sweets, try replacing them with a sugar-free treat—like gum!
Sugar-free gum is a good alternative to sugar-enriched products. It has another sweet benefit, too: It helps protect your teeth!
In between meals, you don’t always have access to your toothbrush. But food and sugar sit on your teeth, creating acids that attack your enamel.
Chewing gum makes your mouth produce more saliva, a way to naturally protect your teeth from acid.
Get enough vitamin D
Did you know that vitamin D is linked to oral health? It helps your body absorb calcium and phosphate through your intestines. Studies show that lower levels of vitamin D are found in children with higher caries (or cavities) rates.
How do you increase your intake of vitamin D and prevent cavities? We’ve listed a few things you can eat down below:
- Take vitamin D supplements
- Fish (including salmon, shrimp, and tuna)
- Egg yolks
- Fortified cereals and dairy products
Brush using toothpaste with fluoride
Earlier, we mentioned how sugar and acid demineralize your tooth. You can remineralize your enamel with fluoride treatments.
How? Fluoride attracts calcium and phosphate ions to the surface of your tooth. As a result, your tooth becomes more resilient against acid and sugar.
So, how can you add more fluoride to your teeth? Fluoride toothpaste is one way to do that. You can find it at any grocery store or pharmacy! You can also rinse with fluoride mouthwash.
If you’re helping your kid brush their teeth, fluoride toothpaste is a good idea for them, too—but wait until they’re old enough to spit it out after. If they swallow it, they may get an upset stomach.
Don’t eat sugary foods
You’ve known it since you were a small child: Eating sugar is bad for your teeth. There’s no way around it. It’s just not good for you.
Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is beneficial for your dental and overall health.
Did you know that starchy foods are also bad for your teeth? Foods made of carbohydrates (like white bread, pasta, and potatoes) and sugars are consumed by bacteria, such as Streptococcus Mutans, and produce acids. Then, you’re left with the same problem that eating candy causes: Sugars that turn into acids and attack your teeth.
So, what can you take away from this? Try to limit the amount of sugary and starchy foods in your diet. If you do eat these types of foods, swish your mouth with water and brush after; this will help wash away some of the sugar and acid.
See your dentist regularly
This one goes without saying. As we explained earlier, your dentist has the expertise to spot the signs of early decay. Regular check-ups and cleanings can help you stop cavities from developing.
If you get dental cavities fairly often, your dentist can recommend ways to make changes to your diet and brushing habits to prevent tooth decay. They can keep an eye on your teeth and treat issues as they come up.
Do You Have a Cavity?
Only a dental professional can say for sure!
If you’re concerned about your teeth, or it’s just time for your next cleaning, we can help. At Dental House, we offer a variety of general dentistry services, including root canals, tooth extractions, and dental fillings.
Our friendly dentists are always welcoming new patients. Book your appointment today!