Dental cavities are one of the most prevalent dental diseases, affecting more than 2.3 billion people worldwide. Looking at this vast number, it becomes of the essence to have more clarity about this dental disease. To know more about dental cavities, keep reading as we elaborate on everything you need to know about dental cavities.
WHAT ARE DENTAL CAVITIES?
Dental cavities, also known as dental decay or dental caries, leads to the formation of a hole in your teeth. A dental cavity is a microbiological disease of teeth that leads to the demineralisation of calcified tissues of the teeth and destruction of the organic portion.
Our teeth constitute three layers, namely enamel, dentine and dental pulp. Enamel is the outermost, calcified and protective layer of the tooth. Then comes the dentine, which is a little less calcified or mineralised than enamel. Enamel and dentine protect the inner core of the tooth, which is called the dental pulp. Dental pulp houses the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue of the teeth. Dental decay starts from the outermost layer of the tooth surface, enamel, and gradually grows and leads to the formation of a hole or a cavity if left untreated.
Dental cavities usually do not cause pain initially and spread silently until it affects the pulp, leading to pain. Initial dental cavities generally remain undiagnosed due to this reason. Therefore, regular dental check-ups are recommended as your dentist will be able to diagnose even the most initial infection and treat it accordingly before any complication or pain arises.
It is important to know that none of us is immune to dental caries; anyone can suffer from it, be it an adult or a child. Permanent teeth (adult teeth) and primary teeth (baby or milk teeth) are equally susceptible to dental decay. Therefore, having excellent oral hygiene and scheduling regular dental appointments is essential.
Being diagnosed with dental cavities during a routine oral health examination can come as a surprise. However, there is no need to worry as it can be easily treated. Owing to the advances in dental sciences, we can also prevent dental caries from occurring in the future. If you think you may be suffering from dental decay or it has been a long time since you visited a dentist, schedule an appointment with us today to get on your journey to a healthy mouth.
WHAT CAUSES DENTAL CAVITIES?
As mentioned before, dental cavities or dental decay is a microbiological disease. Dental cavities are caused by bacteria that accumulate in your mouth. Plaque is a sticky, whitish-yellow film that adheres to the tooth surface and is a normal phenomenon—our regular oral hygiene practices like tooth brushing and flossing aim towards removing it as it houses bacteria. However, faulty oral hygiene practices combined with a high sugar diet generate a perfect environment for the growth of plaque and bacterial colonies.
Our mouth is a host to millions and millions of bacteria; while most of them are harmless and even protect you, some are disease-causing in the right condition. When oral harmony gets disturbed, the growth of disease-causing bacteria is seen, which hides safely in the plaque. If plaque is not removed, it hardens and becomes calculus which tenaciously adheres to the tooth surface. These bacteria metabolise the sugars from the food we consume to release acidic by-products into the mouth. These acidic by-products are toxic and responsible for many oral ailments like dental cavities and gum diseases. Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli are the most commonly isolated bacteria from dental cavities.
Bacteria are responsible for dental decay, which starts with a whitish patch when it attacks the enamel. The bacterial by-products demineralise the enamel causing tiny openings on the enamel surface.
From here, they make their way to the inner surface of the tooth, dentine. Dentine has tubules or openings and is less resistant to bacterial acid than enamel. Once the dentine is affected, it leads to sensitivity as it directly communicates with the inner pulp.
If the cavity is still not treated by a dentist, the infection grows and bacteria march forward to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp. The bacterial acid irritates the pulp and leads to its inflammation which ultimately leads to pain. The bacteria can even travel forward, infecting the bone and nearby tissues.
RISK FACTORS FOR DENTAL CAVITIES
If you have teeth, there are chances that you may suffer from dental cavities. Therefore, it is essential to stay aware of the risk factors which can give rise to dental cavities.
- Dental decay most commonly affects your back teeth (molars and premolars. These teeth bear the brunt of chewing forces and have many pits and fissures which harbours bacteria. In addition, it is also harder to keep these areas clean.
- Consumption of sticky, sugary foods and beverages like candies, cakes, cookies, chocolates, dried fruits, colas, etc., also predisposes you to dental cavities.
- Infants who are fed sugary milk, juice or formula just before bedtime are also susceptible to dental decay. These particles stay on the tooth surfaces and damage the teeth at night. Such type of dental decay is known as nursing bottle caries.
- Faulty, irregular tooth brushing, and inadequate flossing lead to plaque accumulation, leading to dental decay.
- Fluoride deficiency – fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens the teeth structure and resists caries. Lack of fluoride can predispose you to dental cavities. This is also the reason why fluoride is added to toothpaste, mouthwashes and even public drinking water.
- Teenagers and older adults.
- Lack of adequate saliva causes dry mouth, medically termed as xerostomia. Saliva washes of food particle residues from the tooth and also contain enzymes that help fight bacteria. Dry mouth can be a result of many systematic diseases and even cancer treatments. Lack of saliva is also a reason for dental caries.
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) and eating disorders like bulimia can cause stomach acid to flow into the oral cavity, which wears the enamel, making the tooth susceptible to decay.
SYMPTOMS OF DENTAL CAVITIES
The signs and symptoms of dental cavities depend upon the extent of decay and infection. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below, you may be suffering from a dental cavity.
- Toothache is often the most common reason a person visits a dental office. Initial dental decay does not lead to pain; however, it can lead to pain once the decay progresses and reaches the pulp. Toothache can be continuous or intermittent, throbbing or dull aching, depending on the extent of the decay.
- Pain on biting or chewing.
- You may see visible holes in the teeth.
- Brownish or blackish discolouration of the teeth.
- You may also have isolated areas in the mouth sensitive to hot, cold, sweet or sour foods and liquids.
- Swelling of the the gums surrounding the affected tooth.
COMPLICATIONS OF UNTREATED DENTAL CAVITIES
Untreated dental cavities can lead to a plethora of complications. Many people do not take dental cavities seriously and delay treatment, which can be detrimental not only to oral health but also overall health. Read ahead as we elaborate on some common complications which arise due to untreated dental cavities.
- Dental cavities weaken the tooth structure and can cause it to break under normal pressure, which is generated during chewing and even simple biting.
- Dental cavities destroy the tooth structure and can lead to eventual tooth loss.
- Even if a single tooth is lost, it disturbs oral harmony. A disturbance in oral harmony can also lead to pathological shifting of the remaining teeth and promote tooth loss.
- Disturbs normal chewing and affects speech.
- The bacteria from dental cavities can reach the root of the tooth and cause an abscess. A dental abscess is a pus-filled cavity that forms at the apex of the tooth’s root and leads to intense pain.
- The infection can even reach the jawbone and leads to its destruction.
- The bacteria can even infect the nearby soft tissues leading to facial swelling. The swelling can progress to involve the facial spaces and, at one point, become so large that it presses the windpipe, leading to difficulty in breathing. This becomes an emergency and has to be treated promptly as it can be morbid.
- The bacteria from the cavity can also find a way to enter the blood vessels. From here, the bacteria travel to the major vessels and infects the internal organs leading to a generalised inflammatory response of the body called sepsis. You may also experience fever and lethargy. Sepsis is also a medical emergency, and any delay in treatment can be detrimental to life.
TREATMENT OF DENTAL CAVITIES
Dental cavities are treated based on their extent. It can be treated by a regular dental filling or may even require a root canal treatment. Read ahead as we discuss various treatment modalities for dental cavities.
If you are lucky and your dental decay is caught at an initial level, it can easily be treated with the help of fluorides. Fluorides can remineralise initial dental decay, which appears as a chalky white patch. Fluoride is applied to the affected tooth, which helps reverse the cavity. Our dentist may also recommend you a fluoridated toothpaste and a mouthwash in addition to professional fluoride application. Professional fluoride treatments can be in liquids, gels, and even varnishes that are carefully applied to your teeth.
If the dental cavity has advanced and has infected the enamel and dentine, our dentist will recommend dental fillings. There are many types of dental fillings that are used to restore a dental cavity. The infected tooth portion is first removed with the help of a dental drill, and then the tooth is cleaned and restored with the help of dental filling material. Earlier, the most commonly used material for restoring a dental cavity was silver amalgam. However, due to its metallic unaesthetic appeal and other drawbacks, it is no longer in use. Presently our dental clinic uses white fillings like dental composite resins. Dental composite resins are tooth coloured and come in various shades to ensure superior aesthetics. Our dentist will select the shade that matches your natural teeth shade to restore your decayed tooth. Composite resins are exposed to UV light which hardens it. Composites last a long time and restore the smile to its previous glory.
INDIRECT PULP CAPPING
Indirect pulp capping is a dental filling procedure that is done when the dental cavity has reached near the pulp but not invaded it. A layer of calcium hydroxide is applied, which seals the defect, and then the hole is restored as usual with the help of dental cement or composite resins.
DIRECT PULP CAPPING
Our dentist may opt for a more conservative approach to restore your teeth if there is a pinpoint exposure of the dental pulp. Here too, a layer of calcium hydroxide is applied to soothe and seal the exposed pulp. The remaining cavity is filled with the help of dental cement or resins as usual.
ROOT CANAL TREATMENT
Our dentist will suggest you go for root canal treatment when the decay is extensive, and the infection has reached the dental pulp. In the presence of a dental abscess or a periapical infection, a root canal treatment is the treatment of choice. During this procedure, our dentist will clear out the decay and open the tooth with the help of dental drills. Next, series of specialised root canal instruments are used to clear out the infection in the root of the teeth and remove the pulp. Later, the empty root canal is filled with the help of root canal filling material like gutta-percha. The top that is the crown portion of the teeth is filled at a later date with the use of dental fillings like cement or composite resins.
Sometimes, dental cavities are so large that they destroy the bulk of the tooth structure and a straightforward dental filling is not enough to restore the tooth’s shape, size, and function. In such a situation, a dental crown is recommended. A dental crown, commonly known as a cap, is fitted on the top portion of the tooth. Dental crowns elegantly restore the shape, size as well as functions of the decayed tooth. Dental crowns can be made from metal, porcelain, or metal fused to porcelain, depending on individual needs.
Dental crowns also become imperative after a root canal treatment. Root canal treatments weaken the tooth a little, and dental crowns are given to restore the strength of the tooth.
If the decay is extensive and has destroyed a majority of the tooth structure, our dentist will suggest you go for its removal. Any dentist will try their best to save the tooth; however, it becomes impossible to save the tooth in certain situations. In such a situation, we have no choice but to go for tooth extraction. Once the tooth is removed, the empty socket is allowed to heal. Later, the missing tooth or teeth can be replaced with the help of dental implants, dental bridges or dentures.
HOW CAN I PREVENT DENTAL CAVITIES?
The crux of dental cavity prevention lies in maintaining good oral health. Below are some of our tips that will help you prevent dental cavities and all their ugly complications.
- Use a good quality, soft-bristled nylon toothbrush and a fluoridated toothpaste to brush your teeth. Ensure that you brush your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. It is important that you cover each and every tooth surface, especially pay extra attention to the back teeth.
- Use a piece of floss to remove any plaque and debris which gets accumulated between two teeth. Flossing is essential for everyone to maintain optimum oral health. Make sure that you are flossing at least once every day.
- Rinse your mouth after you have had a meal.
- You can also supplement your daily oral hygiene routine by introducing a mouthwash. Mouthwash can reach the difficult to reach areas of the mouth and ensure the removal of any remaining debris.
- Visit your dentist regularly, at least once every six months, for a complete oral health check-up. During these visits, your dentist will be able to diagnose any dental disease, if present at the earliest and ensure you get proper treatment before the disease progresses and wreaks havoc.
- Consider getting dental sealants when your dentist suggests it. Dental sealants are used to seal the deep fissures and pits on your back teeth, which generally harbour bacteria and are difficult to clean.
- Drink fluoridated water which is readily available in normal tap water.
- Avoid frequent consumption of sugary beverages, sodas, and candies as these can destroy your teeth’ enamel and give energy source to the disease-causing bacteria.
- Consume a colourful and balanced diet. This should not come as a surprise, as a healthy diet is a key to living a healthy life. Add more vegetables and seasonal fruits to your diet. This will increase the salivary flow and ensure your mouth remain clean.
- Opt for professional fluoride treatment as it makes your teeth strong and resists dental decay.
These small tips will ensure dental cavity prevention and keep you healthy. If you have any more questions, would like to know about our services or schedule an appointment, contact us and our team of friendly dental professionals will be there to assist you. Till then, be healthy and keep smiling!
DISCLAIMER: The advice offered is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. It is in no way offering a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.