Recently, World Health Organisation published data that estimates that over 2.3 billion people suffer from dental cavities worldwide. Looking at this number, you can imagine how common this dental disease is. However, many people do not take this disease seriously, and there is a lack of awareness. Dental cavities are often ignored till it becomes way too painful to bear or it’s too late to save the tooth.
Read ahead as we talk about dental cavities, their causes, prevention and treatment.
What Are Dental Cavities
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. It can even progress further to infect the jawbone and nearby facial soft tissues.
Our teeth consist of three layers – enamel, dentin and dental pulp. The first and the outermost layer is known as the enamel. The enamel is a highly mineralized, protective layer of the tooth and is resistant to dental decay. The second layer is the dentin, which is a little less mineralized than enamel. After dentine comes the dental pulp, which is the core of teeth and is responsible for the teeth’ vitality. The dental pulp contains nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues.
Dental decay first affects the outermost layer of the tooth surface, enamel. At this stage, dental cavities usually cause no pain and, therefore, it is easier to ignore. Dental cavities become apparent when they progress to involve deeper layers and lead to the formation of a hole. The pain due to dental cavities starts when the infection reaches the tooth’s core, that is, the dental pulp.
Dental cavities are notorious for progressing silently, which is why regular dental check-ups are recommended. Regular dental appointments will allow our dentist to diagnose dental cavities at the earliest and treat them before it advances to its severe forms.
Being diagnosed with dental cavities during a routine oral health examination can come as a surprise to many. However, there is no need to fret about it, as dental cavities can be easily treated, especially if diagnosed early.
What Causes Dental Cavities?
As mentioned above, dental cavities are a microbiological disease, and the main culprit is bacteria. Our mouth is home to many different species of bacteria. Many of these are harmless and essential for the maintenance of proper oral harmony. However, some can be disease-causing under the right condition.
These bacteria reside in dental plaque; a sticky, whitish-yellow film adheres to the tooth surface. Plaque forms every single day and is a natural process. However, in some cases, this plaque proliferates and gives the bacteria a chance to cause trouble. Our regular oral hygiene practices like tooth brushing and flossing are aimed towards plaque removal. When we become irregular with our regular oral hygiene, the bacteria-laden plaque finds a perfect environment to grow.
The disease-causing bacteria in the plaque metabolize the sugars from the food we eat to release acidic byproducts into the mouth. These acidic and toxic bacterial byproducts are responsible for dental ailments like dental cavities and gum diseases. The most common bacteria which are found to cause dental cavities are Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli.
The acid which is produced by these disease-causing bacteria starts attacking the enamel and, with time, leads to its demineralization. The enamel wears off and thins out, which exposes the second layer of the tooth, the dentine. Dentine is less resistant to dental cavities than enamel and also has tubules that harbour bacteria. Once the dentine is affected, you may start experiencing sensitivity to cold, hot, sweet and sour foods and beverages as it has direct communication with the inner pulp.
Risk Factors for Dental Cavities
Who is at risk for dental cavities? Well, the answer is – everyone who has teeth. However, there are many risk factors that increase your chances of suffering from dental cavities. Therefore, the best way to stay away from dental cavities is to be away from these risk factors and follow specific tips for its prevention. These are some of the most common risk factors for dental cavities-
- The number one bad habit which puts you at a greater risk of dental cavity is faulty, irregular tooth brushing. Combine this with inadequate flossing, and your mouth becomes a perfect habitat for the accumulation of bacteria-laden plaque, which is the key causative factor of dental decay.
- Dental cavities are seen to affect the back teeth commonly, that is, molars and premolars. Molars are responsible for breaking the food particles and bear the brunt of chewing forces. Molars and premolars also 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 cavities.
- A diet that is rich in sticky, sugary foods and beverages like candies, cakes, cookies, chocolates, dried fruits, colas, etc., directly puts you at a greater risk for dental cavities.
- Infants who are bottle-fed sugary milk, juice or formula just before bedtime are also susceptible to dental decay as these particles stay on the tooth the entire night and lead to damage. Such type of dental decay in infants who are bottle-fed just before bedtime is known as nursing bottle caries.
- 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 while making 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. Dry mouth can be a result of many systematic diseases and even cancer treatments.
- Diseases like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) and eating disorders like bulimia cause the stomach acid to enter the oral cavity. The acid attacks the teeth’ enamel and causes it to wear down. The thinning of enamel makes the teeth susceptible to decay.
Symptoms of Dental Cavities
The symptoms of 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 to our dental clinic today.
- Tooth sensitivity to cold, hot, sour and sweet foods and liquids.
- Toothache can be continuous or intermittent, and dull aching or throbbing.
- Tooth pain which increases upon lying down or while sleeping,
- Pain and discomfort on biting down or chewing on something.
- Visible holes or cavities in your tooth or teeth with brownish or blackish discolouration of the affected teeth.
- Swelling and pus discharge can happen from the gums around the infected tooth.
Complications of Untreated Dental Cavities
Unfortunately, many people do not take dental cavities as seriously as they should and delay treatment. This can lead to multiple complications, which are not only harmful to oral health but also overall health. In this section, we will discuss the complications which can arise with untreated dental cavities.
- Dental cavities advance to destroy the tooth structure, which weakens the structural integrity of the tooth. This makes the affected tooth susceptible to fracture and breakage under normal forces.
- Untreated dental cavities lead to massive destruction of the tooth, which can lead to eventual tooth loss.
- Once teeth are lost, even if it’s a single tooth, it can disturb oral harmony. This disturbance in oral harmony causes pathological shifting of the remaining teeth and promotes further tooth loss.
- Dental cavities make it difficult for you to chew adequately.
- Decayed and damaged teeth also affect speech.
- The bacteria responsible for dental decay can also travel to the root of the tooth, where it can cause a dental abscess.
- These bacteria can also lead to multiple jawbone infections, which can initiate further tooth loss.
- The bacterial byproducts can erode through the nearby soft tissues causing inflammation and swelling. The swelling can continue to grow and involve the facial spaces, and, at one point, it can become so large that it blocks the windpipe, leading to difficulty in breathing. This is a life-threatening medical condition and has to be treated swiftly.
- These bacterias can also escape the oral cavity to enter the bloodstream from where it travels to infect the internal organs. This leads to generalized inflammation in the body, causing sepsis. Some of the common symptoms of sepsis may include fever, chills, lethargy and a generalized feeling of unwellness. Sepsis is also a medical emergency, and any delay in treatment can be life-threatening.
A single decayed tooth can cause life-threatening complications; therefore, it is a must to get appropriate treatment for dental cavities as soon as possible.
Treatment of Dental Cavities
Treatment for dental cavities will vary according to the extent of the disease and your symptoms.
Initial dental decay, which appears as a whitish, chalky patch, can be reversed with the help of professional fluoride treatments. Therefore, if your dental decay is caught early, our dentist will recommend you go for fluoride treatment. They will carry out 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.
If the dental cavity has advanced and has led to the formation of a hole, our dentist will recommend you go for traditional dental fillings. Our dentist will first remove the decayed part of the tooth with the help of a dental drill. Once they have affirmed that the infection is cleared, they will restore the cavity with the help of dental filling material.
Earlier, the most common material for restoring a dental cavity was a silver amalgam. However, due to its metallic appearance and various other drawbacks, it is no longer used. Instead, we opt for tooth-coloured material, also known as white fillings, for restoring dental cavities.
This dental filling material is known as dental composite resins; they are tooth coloured and come in various shades to ensure superior aesthetics as well as function.
Indirect Pulp Capping
Indirect pulp capping is a dental restorative procedure that is carried out when the dental decay has reached near the pulp but not invaded it. A layer of calcium hydroxide is added to the bottom of the cavity after the removal of the decayed part. Calcium hydroxide provides a barrier and seals the defect. Later, the remaining cavity is restored with the help of dental cement or composite resins.
Direct Pulp Capping
Direct pulp capping is also a restorative procedure for deep dental cavities where a pinpoint exposure of pulp takes place. In this procedure too, a layer of calcium hydroxide is applied directly to the exposed pulp.
Root Canal Treatment
When the bacteria reached the pulp and root of the tooth, root canal treatment becomes essential for proper treatment. Root canal treatment is also carried out in the presence of a dental abscess or periapical infection.
During root canal treatment, the tooth’s roots are opened with the help of dental drills. The procedure is carried out under local anesthesia to ensure maximum comfort. Next, specialized root canal instruments are used to remove the infected pulp from the tooth’s root. After cleaning the teeth from the inside, the empty root canal is filled with root canal filling material like gutta-percha. Later on, the top portion is sealed, which is generally followed up with a dental crown.
Dental crowns are used to restore a tooth’s shape, size, strength and function. Dental crowns become mandatory in cases of extensive dental decay. Dental crowns can be made from metal, porcelain, or metal fused to porcelain, depending on individual needs and wants.
Dental crowns also become crucial after a root canal treatment. Root canal treatments weaken the tooth a little, and dental crowns are given to restore the strength of the tooth.
If dental decay has already destroyed the majority of the tooth structure, the only thing we can do is remove it and replace it with the help of dental implants or bridges. Our dentist will try their best to ensure this does not happen; however, at times, it becomes impossible to save the tooth and the only way for treatment is tooth removal followed by replacement.
How Can I Prevent Dental Cavities?
We have all heard the quote – “Prevention is better than cure”, and it stands true even in the case of dental cavities. We have already seen the havoc dental cavities can wreak on our oral and overall health. The good news is that you can follow our simple tips to prevent dental cavities and stay away from all its ugly consequences.
- The first thing you must start doing is maintaining better oral hygiene. Use a good quality, soft-bristled nylon toothbrush and a fluoridated toothpaste to clean your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. Make sure you cover all the teeth surfaces while paying extra attention to the back teeth.
- Inculcate the habit of flossing every day to remove any plaque and debris which may get accumulated between your teeth. 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.
- You can also supplement your daily oral hygiene routine by introducing a mouthwash. Mouthwash can reach the difficult-to-reach areas of the mouth and ensure the removal of any remaining debris.
- Schedule regular and timely dental visits, 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 normal tap water.
- It is best if you avoid frequent consumption of sugary beverages, sodas, and candies as these can destroy your teeth’ enamel and give an energy source to the disease-causing bacteria.
- Having a colourful and balanced diet is a key to living a healthy life and also for preventing dental cavities. Adding more vegetables and seasonal fruits to your diet will help increase the salivary flow and ensure your mouth remain clean.
Following these tips will not only help you prevent caries but will also help you keep many infectious conditions at bay. If you think it’s time for a dental appointment, contact us now, and we will schedule your visit at the earliest. In case you have any more questions or would like to know more about our services, contact us, and our team of excellent 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.