Your teeth are one of your greatest assets. Not only do they provide that winning smile, but they also allow you to enjoy a healthy diet and maintain overall health. When you allow your oral health to fall by the wayside, you increase your odds of getting cavities. Cavities can be painful, but can also lead to other more serious dental issues. Here we answer the common question: What is a cavity and why should I get it filled?
Cavities are tiny holes or openings in your teeth that create permanent damage. Also known as tooth decay or caries, cavities develop when acids in your mouth eat away at your tooth enamel. Your tooth enamel is the hard, outer coating of your teeth. Some causes of cavities include:
Cavities can affect people of all ages. Cavities are one of the most common dental problems, but are also one of the easiest to prevent.
A filling is a restorative treatment to repair cavities. First, the decay is removed and then a filling is used to fill the hole left behind. The filling closes the space, stopping bacteria from re-entering and causing further tooth decay. There are different materials used to fill your tooth, including tooth-coloured resin.
The resin allows you to maintain a more consistent tooth colour, making cavities invisible when you smile, yawn, laugh or open your mouth. However, depending on the size of the hole, you might require a more involved restorative treatment such as inlays, onlays, root canals or crowns.
Once you develop a cavity, they can only get worse. Your tooth is more vulnerable and the tooth decay that caused the cavity will continue to eat away at your tooth. The only way to prevent further damage is to have a dental filling. If left untreated, the cavity gets deeper and more painful.
This is because it can get closer and closer to the dental pulp — the overly sensitive, soft center of your tooth. This is a nerve that is very vulnerable, and once decay begins, you are at risk of infection. When infection sets in, the pain can be unbearable, and the tooth will require a root canal. This is a far more costly treatment than a simple filling, as the entire root and surrounding decay in the tooth must be removed.
Complications of cavities may include:
To avoid painful complications, a filling is always your safest bet.
Sometimes cavities are not easily detected by the patient. When the decay is not deep, often you can have a cavity and not even realize. That’s why it’s so important to have regular dental checkups so they are spotted before they get too deep and painful. However, there are some obvious symptoms you have a cavity, including:
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to call our office to set up an appointment.
As mentioned, cavities form due to tooth decay. Tooth decay develops over time, beginning with the formation of plaque. Plaque is clear so it’s difficult to spot. It is very sticky and creates a film on your teeth, especially when you eat a lot of sugary foods and starches. Combine this with poor oral hygiene, and the combination of plaque and bacteria is the perfect storm for cavities.
The longer plaque stays on your teeth the harder it becomes, creating tartar build-up. Tartar adds to the problem as it makes it hard to remove plaque while protecting bacteria. Plaque contains acids that remove the minerals in your tooth enamel. As mentioned, when erosion continues, the holes for cavities form.
Once enamel wears away, bacteria and acid get to the next layer of your teeth, the dentin. This layer is softer and can’t resist the acid and bacteria. As the decay continues it can reach the soft inner pulp, forming infection. Swelling from the infection presses against the tooth and nerves, causing pain. The infection can also cause an abscess, an infected sore that appears on the gums. If the abscess doesn’t drain, the infection can reach your jaw, head, and neck. Untreated, an abscess can lead to sepsis, a serious infection that spreads throughout your body.
There are several things that increase cavity risk, including:
If you know you are at higher risk due to medical conditions, diet or poor oral hygiene, our team can help.
Your best defense against cavities and tooth decay is daily oral hygiene combined with regular dental checkups. Oral hygiene reduces bacteria and plaque buildup while professional cleanings remove plaque and tartar. We also check for signs of decay and provide treatment such as tooth sealants to protect your teeth from further issues.