Dental cavities, also known as tooth decay, occur when the structures of the teeth become damaged. They can occur quickly or develop slowly and can recur on the same tooth, even if it has been filled, when the edges of the filling can become affected.
Causes of Dental Cavities
The most common people to be affected by dental cavities are children and young adults. This could be due to poor dental hygiene techniques, frequent snacking and because of excessive consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar.
Bacteria in the mouth convert foods, especially those high in starches or sugars into acid. This acid when mixed with saliva and the air produces plaque which can build-up on and around the teeth. If the plaque is not removed properly, it turns into tartar. Tartar irritates the gums and teeth leading to gum disease and dental damage; a diet high in sugar results in more adherent plaque which is more difficult to remove.
Signs and Symptoms
Early damage to the teeth presents as a small whitish spot on the tooth enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) which indicates disturbances to the tooth. If left, this will eventually form into a discoloured brown mark which may become soft and form a hole in the tooth.
Once the inside of the tooth is affected (the dentin), it can cause pain as the passages to the nerves are involved. Certain foods or drinks especially those at high or very low temperatures can aggravate the pain.
Occasionally the person may experience a strange taste in their mouth and develop bad breath.
If this damage is left untreated an infection can spread to other tissues and be potentially very serious to overall health.
Any damage to the teeth must be assessed by a dentist, who will decide on the most appropriate treatment for each individual. If the damage is found early, usually at a regular check-up, a topical agent may be applied to the tooth and the damage will be contained.
If the impairment is advanced the rotting material will need to be removed from the tooth, the hole cleaned and then filled with a special substance that aims to restore function and appearance of the tooth. Commonly used substances are composite resin, amalgam, porcelain or even gold. If, when the rotting material has been removed the remainder of the tooth is not able to be filled, the tooth may need to be capped, where the entire tooth is covered.
Occasionally the whole tooth and root will need to be extracted.
Prevention of Dental Cavities
Performing the correct oral hygiene techniques, including flossing, is sometimes all that is needed to prevent any damage to the teeth. Educating children when they are young is essential in ensuring good oral hygiene techniques and practises are carried on through life.
Eating regular meals, without frequent snacking is a good way of reducing the amount of acid in the mouth, decreasing the risk of plaque formation.
Regular visits to the dentists will ensure that any damage is detected and treated early, meaning less discomfort, less expense and less risk of an infection spreading.
Dietary influences can significantly reduce the risks of developing dental problems. Always avoid unnecessary sugary products and if they are eaten or drunk brush and floss teeth soon afterwards.
Dental hygiene is essential for maintaining clean, white and bright teeth. Dental cavities can significantly change someone’s appearance and can be a source of huge discomfort and pain.