According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 91 percent of Americans have experienced a cavity. Over 25 percent of people have some form of untreated tooth decay.
Not all cavities are equal – they can vary in location and cause. These factors influence the type of treatment needed to correct the issue and prevent it from worsening.
How Do Cavities Form?
When the foods and beverages you consume stay on your teeth, bacteria in your mouth turns them into acid. The combination of bacteria, acid, food and saliva form a sticky film called plaque. In the process, the teeth’s enamel starts to wear down and eventually creates holes called cavities.
Brushing and flossing help break this pattern, dislodging the bacteria and preventing repeat acid exposure to a single area. Long term, teeth can start to show white spots that indicate a decrease in calcium. At this stage, fluoride still has potential to reverse the damage.
The dentin layer below the enamel also starts to decay and patients may experience some level of pain. Fluoride won’t help repair the damage; to halt the progression, your dentist may recommend a filling.
Cavities can progress to the pulp, which results in infection and greater pain. Eventually, an abscess may form at the root, allowing the infection to spread. Patients who let decay reach this stage may be steered toward a root canal or surgical procedure to prevent tooth loss.
Dental Cavity Forms
There are three general types of dental cavities:
- Root Cavities: These form on the exterior of a tooth root. Older adults and those with a gum disorder are more likely to experience root cavities.
- Pit and Fissure Cavities: These are more likely to form on the teeth’s chewing surfaces, making the rear molars more susceptible. People who don’t brush and floss regularly tend to develop these cavities, as food gets trapped between the teeth.
- Smooth-Surface Cavities: These occur on the tooth’s smooth areas and tend to emerge slowly over time, the result of inconsistent dental hygiene.
- Interproximal Cavities: These form between two teeth when the protective enamel wears away, bacteria sticks to the tooth and decay occurs.
Treating and Preventing Dental Cavities
As a baseline, you should schedule dental cleanings at least twice a year. These visits help remove any hardened plaque and tartar that has accumulated on your teeth that everyday brushing cannot dislodge. These areas create places for bacteria to gather, increasing your risk for cavities. During these regular visits, your dentist can also look for signs of decay that can be treated with fluoride, a filling or another procedure.
Should a cavity be found, your dentist may recommend the following treatments to prevent further progression:
- Fillings: After removing any existing decay, fillings help treat root cavities. If decay has reached the pulp, a root canal and crown may be needed.
- Sealant or Fluoride: A sealant or fluoride can address pit and fissure cavities in their early stages. Deeper cavities that go past the dentin to the pulp require a root canal and crown, as these pit and fissure cavities have potential to alter the tooth’s structure at this stage.
- Fluoride and Filling: As smooth-surface cavities develop at a slower pace, your dentist may start with a fluoride treatment. Later-stage smooth-surface cavities may receive a filling. If an interproximal cavity has not penetrated more than halfway through the enamel, a fluoride treatment can remineralize the tooth. For those that have penetrated past the enamel to the dentin, a filling is the standard treatment.
To learn more about preventing cavities, contact Smile Dental Center today.