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?
What Is A Cavity?
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:
- Frequent snacking
- Sipping sugary drinks
- Poor oral hygiene
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.
What Is A Filling?
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.
Why Are Fillings Important?
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:
- Tooth abscess
- Swelling or pus around a tooth
- Damaged or broken teeth
- Chewing problems
- Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss
To avoid painful complications, a filling is always your safest bet.
How Will I Know I Have A Cavity?
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:
- Tooth pain that comes and goes
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild to sharp pain caused by hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown, black, or white teeth stains
- Pain when you bite down
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to call our office to set up an appointment.
What Causes Cavities?
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.
What Complications Can Occur From Cavities?
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.
What Increases Risk For Cavities?
There are several things that increase cavity risk, including:
- Molars: Molars are more vulnerable to cavities because they have more grooves and natural pits where food and bacteria can build up.
- Poor diet: Eating and drinking too much sugar can add more bacteria in your mouth. Starchy foods like cereal and potatoes can also increase the odds of decay.
- Frequent snacking or sipping: The steady intake of sugary drinks and snacks produces more acids in your mouth that cause cavities.
- Bedtime infant and toddler feeding: Babies given bedtime bottles filled with milk, formula, juice, or sugary liquids are prone to baby bottle tooth decay. Toddlers with sippy cups are also at risk.
- Poor dental hygiene: Not brushing or flossing, and failing to book professional dental cleanings and checkups increase your risk of tooth decay.
- Dry mouth: A lack of saliva caused by smoking, medications and some medical treatments can increase the risk for tooth decay.
- Constant heartburn: Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease produce more acid in your mouth, causing damage to your tooth enamel.
- Eating disorders: Anorexia and bulimia can also cause more tooth erosion due to stomach acids washing over the teeth, as well as issues with saliva production.
If you know you are at higher risk due to medical conditions, diet or poor oral hygiene, our team can help.
How To Prevent Cavities
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.