Posted .

According to the National Institutes of Health, cavities are the second-most common health disorder in the United States, after the common cold. Indeed, cavities are a common problem worldwide. As long as a person is old enough to have teeth, cavities can occur, regardless of age.

What Is a Cavity?
A cavity is a permanently damaged area on the surface of your tooth that is decayed. And because an untreated cavity can continue to develop, it can altogether destroy your tooth. Cavities occur more often in the molars (back teeth), because bacteria easily collect in their ridges. Molars are also more difficult for the average tooth-brusher and flosser to clean sufficiently.

How Do Cavities Develop?
Plaque is a very sticky film of bacteria that is always developing on your teeth. And when you eat sugary food or drinks, there are bacteria in plaque that produce acids which attack and destroy your tooth enamel, the hard outer layer that protects your teeth.

Tooth decay refers to this destructive process on your tooth enamel. And because plaque is so sticky, it prolongs the exposure of these acids to your teeth. Cavities begin to form as enamel is broken down over time.

How Do I Know if I Have a Cavity?
Unfortunately, when a cavity is in its early stages, you probably won’t have any symptoms at all. More often than not, a person has no idea a cavity is forming. That’s why regular dental checkups and cleanings are so important: Dentists and hygienists are cavity investigators who can detect problems early!

As the area of decay gets larger, cavities make themselves known through some unpleasant symptoms, such as toothaches; tooth sensitivity; brown, black or white staining of the teeth; and pain when biting down or eating / drinking something sweet, hot or cold.

How Are Cavities Treated?
When your dentist finds a cavity on your X-rays or during your exam, the next step is to stop the process of decay. Cavities are typically treated with fillings, crowns and root canals.

Fillings. Your dentist removes the decayed portions of the tooth with a drill and then fills the resultant hole with silver alloy, gold, porcelain or composite resin.

Crowns. A crown (sometimes called a “cap”) is used if the decayed area is expansive enough to weaken the tooth. Large fillings are not as strong and are likely to break, so crowns are fitted over the remaining portion of the tooth. Crowns can be made of gold, porcelain or porcelain that’s attached to metal.

Root Canals. If the decay is significant enough that the nerve in the tooth dies, then the dead nerve and the pulp (blood vessel tissue) are taken out. After the decay and the center of the tooth are removed, the roots are filled with a sealing material and a crown is usually necessary.

You Don’t Need Firsthand Experience
There is good news about cavities: You don’t need to have firsthand experience with them. If you attend your regular dental checkups and cleanings, brush twice a day, floss once a day, and eat a well-balanced diet, then your chances of experiencing a cavity are greatly diminished. If you have questions or concerns about cavities, feel free to call our office at 503.370.7651.