To say dental cavities are commonplace is an understatement— roughly 90 percent of the population has at least one. Also known as dental caries, dental cavities are holes in your enamel and dentin, the two outer layers of your tooth that protect the pulp. The pulp of your tooth is the interior where there are blood vessels and nerves.
Cavities form due to a combination of oral bacteria, poor oral hygiene, and poor eating habits. They may not cause pain in the early stages, but if left untreated they can worsen becoming painful and unsightly.
Let’s have a deeper look into what causes cavities and how to prevent them.
How a Dental Cavity Develops
Cavities are a result of tooth decay, which starts with plaque formation. Some strains of bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar from the foods and drinks that you consume. So, if you don’t clean sugars off your teeth, bacteria feed on them and generate acids.
These acids, in turn, combine with bacteria, saliva, and food particles to form plaque, a sticky layer that covers the teeth. After plaque formation, those acids erode the enamel. Tiny openings in your enamel are the first stage of cavity formation.
Once the enamel wears away, bacteria and acid can eat up the dentin, the second layer of your tooth. Bacteria and plaque continue digging into the tooth until the pulp, the inner tooth material, is affected. When decay reaches the pulp of your tooth, you may experience sensitivity, toothache, and pain when chewing.
Cavity-causing bacteria include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria thrive in the pits and fissures of the teeth’s chewing surfaces. They normally cause cavities in baby teeth and the first permanent molars that erupt around the age of 6.
- Six species of streptococcus bacteria normally attack and cause cavities on the sides of the teeth. Such cavities can be difficult to detect visually and are best identified using x-rays.
- Odontomyces viscoses bacteria live on the back of the tongue. They attack exposed cementum, the hard outer layer of the root.
Symptoms of Dental Cavities
In its early stages, a cavity may not exhibit any symptoms. As the decay grows though, signs and symptoms may appear such as:
- Tooth sensitivity
- A toothache or inexplicable pain
- Mild to excruciating pain when consuming something hot, cold, or sweet
- Dark, brown, or white staining on any tooth surface
- Visible holes in your tooth
- Pain when you bite down
How to Prevent Cavities
You can prevent cavities by following these tips:
- Avoid sugary foods and beverages that feed the bacteria in your mouth
- Use fluoride-containing toothpaste and mouthwash – fluoride strengthens enamel, preventing cavities
- Brush properly and floss daily to keep your teeth plaque-free
- Consult your dentist on any medical conditions or medications you are using. These can cause reduced saliva, which can result in tooth decay as the teeth are not being naturally cleaned.
- Tobacco use, alcoholism, and eating disorders may also cause tooth decay and cavities. Talk with your dentist if you have any issues.
Practicing these preventive measures can help keep you cavity free. In the event you need specialized cavity treatment, your dentist is the best resource to turn to.