Teeth cavities are holes found in teeth. The general term is caries. They usually reduce the strength of the tooth structure and are caused by bacteria that enter deep into the enamel layer of a tooth. These bacteria are largely Streptococcus mutans, but there are others. They produce acids that dissolve the tooth.
These bacteria are everywhere. If you don’t clean your teeth, they will collect on your teeth and eventually cause caries. The normal flow of saliva washes them away, but if someone has reduced saliva flow due to radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, they cannot keep up with it, so they get caries.
Symptoms of a Cavity
Caries may cause severe pain. As the bacteria produce acid, they also release gas that gets trapped and causes pressure inside the tooth. This often results in a dull ache deep within the tooth or jaw and sometimes sharp jolts of pain, which can be quite excruciating. Other common symptoms of dental caries are:
- Foul taste in the mouth
- Pain when chewing
- Tooth discolouration
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Swollen, tender gums
- A “hot” tooth that hurts with cold air or liquids
- Black staining on the surface of teeth
- Sensitivity to touch or heat.
- Loose or shifting teeth. Although this is rare in children and teens, it’s quite common in adults who have had untreated cavities for a long time. Since dental caries weaken teeth structure by destroying the enamel, teeth may become loose and eventually fall out.
Causes of a Cavity
The most common reason for having caries is not getting proper dental care. Things like routine cleanings, following your dentist’s recommendations about brushing and flossing, and eating a healthy diet can all prevent caries. Other factors that may contribute to tooth decay include:
- Eating sugary foods
- Drinking sugary drinks (soda, sports drinks, fruit juice)
- Smoking or using chewing tobacco
- Having braces that don’t allow you to brush and floss properly
- Taking certain medications (like some antibiotics, antihistamines, pain relievers, psychiatric drugs or chemotherapy treatments for cancer)
- Belonging to a high-risk group for caries. This includes type 1 or 2 diabetes or conditions that affect how their body uses sugar. This can include people with AIDS, cystic fibrosis, cancer and chronic kidney disease.
- Grinding your teeth at night is known as bruxism. The effects of bruxism go beyond the possibility of caries. Grinding may also damage teeth and lead to jaw problems, such as pain or clicking in your jaw joint.
A dental cary is not something you can ignore. If left untreated, it may cause severe pain if the decay affects the nerve of a tooth (this includes root canal treatment). It will also lead to even more serious problems like damage to your jawbone and loss of teeth.
Dental caries are often treated by removing the decayed part of the tooth and filling it with a material to protect the remaining tooth structure. Your dentist may choose to put in a filling made of various materials, including gold, porcelain or composite resin.
Your dentist will make sure you are comfortable using local anesthesia before starting treatment. If caries are too deep, they may need to be treated by root canal therapy (also known as endodontic treatment). This treatment saves the tooth by removing the damaged parts of the tooth and filling it up. The treated tooth will need crowns caps put over the top to protect against further damage.
Root canals can be performed using local anesthesia. If you’re very anxious, general anesthesia may help ease your concerns and allow you to relax. Your dentist will numb the area and then use a special dental drill or hand tools to remove the diseased pulp inside the tooth and clean and prepare the canals.
If you have dental caries but can’t afford treatment, some federal programs may help you. Your dentist or dental hygienist will tell you about these programs if they are available to you.
Taking good care of your teeth is the best way to prevent caries. Both kids and adults need to brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day, and regularly visit the dentist. Good oral hygiene also includes eating a balanced diet and limiting between-meal snacks.
Sugary foods, beverages and mouth rinses can all lead to tooth decay. So can acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, lemons and pickles. These types of foods should be limited or avoided altogether if you’re at high risk for caries .
However, sugar-free candy and gum can also cause tooth decay. This is because bacteria in your mouth use sugar substitutes (such as sorbitol or xylitol) to produce acids that eat away at the surfaces of teeth.
Choose healthy foods like raw vegetables, unsalted nuts, and whole-grain crackers if you like to snack. Hard, crunchy foods help remove plaque from teeth. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to rinse away food particles and acids that cause tooth decay.
Dental caries are tiny holes in your teeth caused by tooth decay. If you don’t take care of dental caries , they can lead to other serious problems such as tooth loss and other infections. There are many ways you can lower the risk of getting caries, including good oral hygiene and proper diet choices.