Did you know that a recent report published by World Health estimated that over 2.3 billion people suffer from dental cavities worldwide? Dental cavities are one of the most common diseases; however, there is a lack of awareness about it. Many people tend to ignore the tell late signs of dental cavities and often suffer from its complications. However, we are determined not to let this happen to you and therefore have combined this article to let you know everything about dental cavities.
WHAT ARE DENTAL CAVITIES?
Let’s start by answering this common question. To put it simply, dental cavities, medically known as dental decay or dental caries, is a bacterial disease of the tooth which leads to the formation of a hole or a cavity in the tooth. If ignored, dental cavities can even progress further to infect the jawbone and nearby facial soft tissues.
Before we see how dental decay progress, let us take a brief look at the composition of our teeth, each tooth consists of three layers – enamel, dentin and dental pulp. The first layer of the tooth is the enamel, which is a highly mineralized and calcified outermost protective layer of the tooth. Enamel is also resistant to dental decay and ensures the size, shape and strength of the tooth. The second layer is the dentine, which little less mineralized and less resistant to dental decay. The innermost layer forms the core of the tooth, and is known as the dental pulp. The dental pulp consists of various nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues.
Dental cavities start from the outermost layer of the tooth surface, enamel. At this stage, dental cavities usually cause no pain or discomfort and, therefore, it is easier to ignore. Dental cavities become apparent when they involve deeper layers of the tooth and lead to the formation of a hole. The pain due to dental cavities will start when the infection nears the tooth’s core, that is, the dental pulp.
Dental cavities are notorious for progressing silently until the pain begins. Therefore, regular dental appointments are recommended to ensure you stay at the peak of your oral health. Scheduling regular dental visits will allow our dentist to diagnose dental cavities at the earliest and treat them before it advances to its severe forms.
If your dentist diagnoses you with dental cavities during a routine oral health examination, it can come as a surprise. However, the good news is that dental cavities can be easily treated, especially if diagnosed early.
WHAT CAUSES DENTAL CAVITIES?
The main culprit behind dental cavities is bacteria-laden plaque. Bacteria are common residents of our mouth. Most of these are good bacteria and helps our mouth maintain proper functions. They also make sure that the bad bacteria do not overgrow and wreak havoc. However, in some cases where plaque proliferates, this oral harmony can get disturbed, which leads to the growth of bad bacteria.
These disease-causing bad bacteria reside in dental plaque, which is a sticky, whitish-yellow film that adheres to the tooth surface. The formation of plaque is a natural phenomenon and takes place every single day. Our regular oral hygiene practices like tooth brushing and flossing are meant to ensure its removal. However, when we become irregular with our regular oral hygiene, the bacteria-laden plaque does not get removed, combine this with a diet rich in sugars, and you have a perfect environment for the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
These bacteria utilize sugars from the food we eat as an energy source and release byproducts that are acidic in nature. These acidic and toxic bacterial byproducts are responsible for dental diseases like dental cavities and gum diseases. Two of the most common bacteria which are found to cause dental cavities are Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli.
The bacterial acid starts attacking the enamel and, with time, leads to its demineralization. The enamel wears off and thins out, exposing the second layer of the tooth, the dentine. Dentine, as we know, is less resistant to dental cavities than enamel and also has tubules that give bacteria a place to hide. Once the dentine is affected, you may start experiencing sensitivity to cold, hot, sweet and sour foods and beverages due to its direct communication with the inner pulp.
RISK FACTORS FOR DENTAL CAVITIES
Are you at risk for dental decay? Well, if you have teeth, you are. Dental cavities can affect baby teeth as well as adult teeth. Therefore, it is important to stay aware of any risk factor which may give rise to dental cavities. Below we mention some of the most common risk factors for dental cavities.
- Having poor oral hygiene.
- Irregular brushing and using an old toothbrush will not clean the teeth adequately, giving rise to dental cavities.
- You are not using floss. Flossing makes sure that any food debris and plaque accumulated between the teeth gets removed.
- The back teeth are seen to be more susceptible to dental cavities. This is attributed to the fact that molars and premolars have pits and fissures which are known to harbour bacteria. Moreover, it is easy to miss these areas during regular cleaning, which further puts you at a greater risk of suffering from dental decay.
- If you have a diet that is rich in sticky, sugary foods and beverages like candies, cakes, cookies, chocolates, dried fruits, colas, etc., you are at a greater risk for dental cavities.
- Feeding infants sugary milk, juice or formula just before bedtime is also a risk factor for dental decay. These particles stay in your child’s mouth through the night and make their baby teeth prone to decay.
- The deficiency of fluoride weakens your tooth structure and makes it more susceptible to dental cavities. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens the teeth structure and makes them resistant to caries.
- Another risk factor for dental cavities is xerostomia, commonly known as dry mouth. Saliva performs various protective functions and also washes away food debris, keeping your mouth clean. Lack of an adequate amount of saliva is a risk factor for dental cavities.
- Systemic conditions like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) and eating disorders like bulimia cause stomach acid to come into the mouth. The stomach acid attacks the teeth enamel and cause it to wear down. The thinning of enamel makes the teeth susceptible to decay.
IS THERE A WAY TO PREVENT DENTAL CAVITIES?
If you have any of these risk factors and are wondering if there is any way you can prevent the formation of dental cavities, then we have good news for you. Dental cavities can be prevented if you follow some simple tips. Read ahead, as we mention, are top tips for dental cavity prevention.
- Maintain good oral hygiene.
- Make sure you have a good quality, soft-bristled nylon toothbrush and a fluoridated toothpaste. Brush your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. Pay attention to your back teeth as well, and make sure you cover all the teeth properly.
- Make sure you change your toothbrush every three months or earlier if the bristles become frayed.
- Start flossing! Flossing is essential for everyone to maintain optimum oral health as regular toothbrushing cannot reach the gaps between two teeth.
- Make a habit of rinsing your mouth after you have had a meal. This will help you get rid of any accumulated food debris.
- Add a fluoridated mouthwash to your daily oral hygiene regime. Mouthwash reaches the difficult to reach areas of the mouth, ensure the removal of any remaining debris and also has antibacterial properties.
- Make sure you visit our dentist regularly, at least once every six months, for a complete oral health check-up and treatment. During these visits, our dentist will be able to diagnose any dental disease, if present at the earliest and ensure you get proper treatment before the disease progresses to its more serious forms.
- If our dentist recommends dental sealants, consider going for them as they seal the deep fissures and pits on your back teeth. This makes sure that the bacteria don’t grow and also makes tooth cleaning easy.
- Shift to drinking fluoridated water which is readily available in regular tap water.
- Try your best to avoid frequent consumption of sugary beverages, sodas, and candies. These sugary treats, although yummy, can destroy your teeth’ enamel and give energy source to the disease-causing bacteria.
- Have a healthy and balanced diet.
- If you feed your child before putting them to bed, make sure you gently clean their mouth and wipe their gums with wet cotton or cloth.
SYMPTOMS OF DENTAL CAVITIES
Another frequently asked question about dental cavities is – How do I know if I have a dental cavity. Well, dental cavities can manifest in various ways, depending upon the extent of dental decay and infection. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a visit with our dentist today.
- If you have dental cavities, you may have sensitivity to cold, hot, sour and sweet foods and liquids.
- Toothache is one of the most common and often the primary reason one visits a dental clinic. Toothache can be continuous or intermittent and dull aching or throbbing.
- Tooth pain increases upon lying down or while sleeping. This indicates a dental emergency, and dental help should not be delayed.
- You experience pain and discomfort in biting down or chewing on something.
- You spot holes or cavities in your tooth.
- There is brownish or blackish discolouration of the affected teeth.
- Swelling and pus discharge can also happen from the gums around the infected tooth if the decay has progressed.
TREATMENT FOR DENTAL CAVITIES
Owing to the advances in dental sciences, there are many ways to treat a dental cavity. Our dentist will recommend you a proper plan of action based on the extent of your dental cavities.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens the teeth’ structural integrity and helps the teeth resist dental decay. It is seen that initial dental decay, which appears as a whitish, chalky patch, can be reversed with the help of professional fluoride treatments. If you are fortunate and your dental cavities are caught in their initial stages, our dentist will recommend you go for fluoride treatment. They will do a professional fluoride application which can be in the form of gels or varnishes. In addition, our dentist will also prescribe you a high strength fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash.
Once the dental decay has led to the formation of a cavity, our dentist will take the help of dental fillings to treat your dental cavity. The procedure for dental filling is generally completed in a single appointment.
The procedure will begin with the removal of the decayed tooth part. To achieve this, our dentist will take the help of a dental drill. Once the infected part is removed, the tooth is dried and prepared to receive a filling.
Dental amalgam was one of the initial materials which were used to treat dental cavities. However, it has several disadvantages because of which its use is now either limited to wholly avoided.
Presently, we use dental composite resins to fill the dental cavity. Composite resins are tooth coloured and also come in various shades. Our dentist will choose a shade that matches your natural teeth shade for optimum aesthetics. Composite resins are also much more durable and last a long time with proper care.
INDIRECT PULP CAPPING
Indirect pulp capping is done when the dental cavity approaches the pulp but has not invaded yet. Our dentist will first apply a thin layer of calcium hydroxide, which provides a barrier and seals the defect. The remaining cavity is restored with the help of dental cement or composite resins.
DIRECT PULP CAPPING
Direct pulp capping is carried out for deep dental cavities and where there is a pinpoint exposure of pulp. In this procedure, a layer of calcium hydroxide is applied directly to the exposed pulp.
ROOT CANAL TREATMENT
Root canal treatment is done when the pulp is infected, and the infection has reached the root. It is also done in cases of dental abscess.
The procedure is carried out under local anaesthesia. The decayed portion from the top of the tooth is removed with the help of a dental drill. Next, the root of the tooth is opened, and specialized root canal instruments are used to remove the infected pulp and drain out the pus. After cleaning the teeth from the inside, the empty root canal is filled with root canal filling material like gutta-percha, and the canal is sealed. Later on, the top portion is loaded, which is generally followed up with a dental crown. Root canal procedures are done to save the tooth from being extracted.
Dental crowns are dental prostheses that are used to restore a tooth’s shape, size, strength and function. Dental crowns are frequently given in cases of extensive dental decay. Dental crowns also become crucial after a root canal treatment. Dental crowns are custom made for every patient and can be made from metal, porcelain, or metal fused to porcelain, depending on individual needs and wants.
Tooth removal or extraction is done in cases where the tooth can no longer be saved. The extraction socket is allowed to heal, and the missing tooth can be later replaced with the help of an implant or a dental bridge.
COMPLICATIONS OF UNTREATED DENTAL CAVITIES
If you have one or more dental cavities and do not seek treatment, it can turn fatal and create unwanted complications. These complications may also affect your overall health, compromising the quality of life.
- Once a tooth gets affected by dental cavities, its structural integrity gets compromised. This weakens the tooth and makes it susceptible to fracture and breakage even under normal conditions.
- Untreated dental cavities lead to massive destruction of the tooth, which leads to eventual tooth loss.
- Teeth loss due to dental cavities or even gum diseases disturbs oral harmony. This can cause pathological shifting of the remaining teeth in the mouth, which promotes further tooth loss.
- The presence of dental cavities compromises your ability to chew, and it also affects speech.
- The infection can progress to involve the roots of the teeth and can also lead to the formation of a dental abscess.
- The bacteria produce enzymes that erode through the nearby soft tissues causing inflammation and facial swelling. The swelling can continue to enlarge and involve the facial spaces, and, at one point, it becomes so large that it blocks the windpipe, leading to difficulty in breathing. This is a life-threatening medical condition and has to be treated immediately.
- The bacteria responsible for dental cavities sometimes can find a way to exit the tooth and enter the gums’ blood vessels. The bacteria travel to the major blood vessels, from where they can infect internal organs and cause sepsis. Sepsis is a fatal medical emergency and needs immediate treatment.
If you think you may have a dental cavity, it’s time to schedule an appointment with our excellent dentist. If you have any more questions, please call us, and our team of amazing dental professionals will be there to assist you.
DISCLAIMER: The advice offered is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. It is in no way offering a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.