According to the current data published by World Health Organisation, it is predicted that around 2.3 billion people suffer from dental cavities worldwide. Dental cavities are widespread and often ignored till it becomes way too painful to bear. Owing to this, it becomes necessary to have a deeper insight into this disease and what can be done to prevent and treat dental cavities. This blog will answer all your questions with regards to dental caries, so keep reading ahead.
What Are Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities, also known as dental decay or dental caries by dental professionals, lead to the formation of a hole or a cavity in your tooth. Dental decay is a bacterial disease of the teeth that destroys the tooth structure.
Our teeth comprise three layers, namely enamel, dentine, and dental pulp. Enamel is a highly mineralised and outermost covering of the tooth. Enamel functions to protect the tooth and also resists dental decay. The second layer of the tooth is dentin, which is a little less mineralised than enamel. The third layer of the tooth forms the core of the teeth and is known as dental pulp. The dental pulp is formed by nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue of the tooth and is responsible for the tooth’s vitality.
Dental cavities begin from the outermost layer of the tooth surface, enamel, and progress to involve the deeper layer if not treated at an appropriate time.
Since initial forms of dental decay do not lead to any pain or symptom, dental cavities can do undiagnosed for a long time. Therefore, a regular dental check-up is recommended. Your dentist will be able to pinpoint even the slightest changes and treat it accordingly before the disease progresses to its more severe forms.
If you have teeth, you are susceptible to dental cavities. Dental cavities can affect baby teeth and adult teeth, and there is no exception. Therefore, dentists all around the world stress the importance of practising good oral hygiene and scheduling regular dental appointments.
If your dentist diagnoses you with a dental cavity during a routine oral health examination, it can come as a surprise. However, fear not as dental cavities are easily treatable, especially if they are diagnosed early.
Moreover, with the advances in dental sciences, there are many ways in which your dentist can help you prevent dental caries from occurring in the future.
What Causes Dental Cavities?
Dental cavities or dental decay is caused by bacteria that takes refuge in the plaque. Plaque can be described as a sticky, whitish-yellow film that adheres to the tooth surface. The formation of plaque happens every day, and it’s essential that it is appropriately removed. This is the reason dentists recommend brushing twice a day and flossing.
Faulty oral hygiene practices encourage the growth of this disease-causing plaque. In addition, having a high sugar diet also contributes to bacterial overgrowth. Our mouth naturally hosts millions of bacteria, and while most of them are harmless, some are disease-causing.
Our body has various checkpoints which ensure the proper balance of these bacteria to ensure proper oral harmony and a disease-free mouth. However, any disturbance in the oral harmony leads to the proliferation of disease-causing bacteria. These disease-causing bacteria metabolise the sugars from the food we eat release acidic by-products into the mouth leading to dental cavities. Some of the most commonly responsible bacteria for dental cavities are Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli.
The acid produced by these bacteria attack the tooth structure and wears off the enamel causing tiny openings on the enamel surface. Dental decay starts as a whitish, chalky patch on the enamel surface. After infecting the enamel, the bacteria make their way to the second layer of the tooth, the dentin, which is less resistant to dental cavities than enamel. Once the dentine is affected, you may experience tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet and sour foods and beverages.
If, at this point, the dental cavity is still not treated by a dentist, the infection will progress to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp. The bacterial acid irritates the pulp and leads to its inflammation which causes pain. The bacterial infection can even progress further to infect the jawbone and nearby soft tissues.
Risk Factors For Dental Cavities
None of us is immune to dental cavities. If you have teeth, it is possible that you may end up having a dental cavity. Dental cavities affect baby teeth as well as adult teeth; therefore it is important to stay away from the risk factors which can give rise to dental decay.
- Dental cavities are known to affect the back teeth (molars and premolars commonly. Back teeth are responsible for breaking the food we eat into tiny particles. In addition, they have pits and fissures which can harbour bacteria and food debris. Moreover, cleaning the back teeth is difficult, and some areas can be commonly missed during regular oral hygiene practices.
- A diet rich in sticky, sugary foods and beverages like candies, cakes, cookies, chocolates, dried fruits, colas, etc., also puts you at a greater risk for dental cavities.
- Infants who are fed sugary milk, juice, or formula just before bedtime are also susceptible to dental decay. The sugars from these liquids tend to adhere to the tooth structure, which can damage the tooth structure. This can affect the baby’s entire dentition and is known as nursing bottle caries.
- Improper and irregular tooth brushing, as well as inadequate flossing, lead to plaque accumulation, which is the main causative factor of dental decay.
- The deficiency of fluoride, which is a naturally occurring mineral, also puts to at a greater risk of dental cavities. Fluoride strengthens the teeth structure and makes them resistant to caries.
- Xerostomia or dry mouth is also a risk factor for dental decay. Saliva serves various functions, which includes protection and keeping your mouth clean of food debris. Saliva contains different enzymes that have an antibacterial and shielding function against dental decay. Dry mouth can also be a symptom of many systematic diseases and even cancer treatments.
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disorder) and eating disorders like bulimia cause stomach acid to come into the oral cavity. The stomach acid attacks the tooth structure and leads to continuous wearing off of the enamel, making the tooth weak and susceptible to decay.
Symptoms Of Dental Cavities
Signs and symptoms of dental cavities may include –
- One of the most common reasons a person visits a dental clinic is a toothache. Toothache due to dental decay can be continuous or intermittent and dull aching or throbbing.
- Toothache which intensifies when you sleep or lie down.
- Tooth pain and discomfort on biting down or chewing.
- Presence of holes or cavities in your tooth or teeth.
- Brownish and blackish discoloration.
- Sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet or sour foods and liquids.
- Swelling and inflammation gums surrounding the affected tooth.
Complications Of Untreated Dental Cavities
Untreated dental cavities can wreak havoc to the oral and overall health of an individual and cause various complications like –
- A tooth affected by dental cavities weakens and can easily fracture under normal function.
- Tooth loss can also be a result of untreated dental cavities.
- The loss of even a single tooth disturbs oral harmony. This disturbance can lead to pathological shifting of the remaining teeth, which can promote further tooth loss.
- The presence of dental cavities compromises your chewing capability and can even affect speech.
- The bacteria responsible for dental cavities can reach the root of the tooth and cause a dental abscess. A dental abscess is a pus-filled cavity that forms at the apex of the tooth’s root. The presence of a dental abscess can lead to gum swelling and intense pain.
- It can also lead to infection of the jawbone.
- The infection can also progress to involve the nearby soft tissues, which leads to inflammation and swelling. The swelling can further enlarge by involving the facial spaces and, at one point, presses against the windpipe, leading to difficulty in breathing. Such a situation is a life-threatening medical condition and has to be treated promptly.
- The bacteria can also find a way to enter the blood vessels of the gum from where they make their way to the major blood vessels and infects the internal organs. This causes a generalized inflammation in the body and causes sepsis. Sepsis can manifest as high-grade fever, chills, lethargy, and a generalized feeling of un wellness. Sepsis is also a medical emergency and needs immediate medical attention.
How Are Dental Cavities Treated?
Dental cavities can be treated by various modalities, which depends on their extent.
If dental decay is caught in its early stages, it can easily be treated with the help of fluorides. Fluoride application can remineralise initial forms of dental decay, which appears as a chalky white patch. Professional fluoride application on the teeth in the form of a gel or varnish on the affected tooth helps the tooth heal. In addition, our dentist will also suggest you use prescription-strength fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash regularly.
Once the dental cavity advances and leads to the formation of a hole, our dentist will recommend dental fillings. Several dental filling materials are used to restore dental cavities. The decayed tooth portion is first cleaned with the help of a dental drill and then restored with the help of dental filling material.
Earlier, the most common material used for the restoration of the dental cavity was silver amalgam. Silver amalgam tends to discolour the tooth, is unaesthetic and also has various other drawbacks. Owing to the disadvantages of amalgam, tooth coloured dental filling materials were introduced like dental composite resins. Dental composite resins come in different tooth colour shades. Our dentist will select a shade that matches your natural teeth shade to ensure the best aesthetics. Dental fillings with the help of composite provide adequate strength to the tooth structure and rejuvenate your smile.
Indirect Pulp Capping
Our dentist will suggest you indirect pulp capping in cases where the dental cavity has reached near the pulp but not invaded it. It is a dental restorative procedure where a layer of calcium hydroxide is applied to the bottom of the cavity after the infected part is removed. Application of calcium hydroxide will lead to the formation of a seal, and then then the remaining cavity will be restored as usual with the help of dental cement or composite resins.
Direct Pulp Capping
Direct pulp capping is a conservative approach to restore teeth if there is a pinpoint exposure to the dental pulp. Our dentist will apply a thin layer of calcium hydroxide to the exposure. This soothes the pulp and seals the exposed defect reducing pain and sensitivity. The remaining portion of the dental cavity is filled later with the help of dental cement or resins as usual.
Root Canal Treatment
When the infection reaches the pulp and the roots of the tooth, root canal treatment becomes the treatment of choice. Root canal treatment is also performed in the presence of a dental abscess or periapical infection.
The process of root canal treatment starts with the removal of the decayed portion of the tooth. Our dentist will use specialised root canal instruments to clear out the infection in the root of the teeth and remove the pulp. Once the tooth is free of infection, the empty room is filled with a root canal filling material like gutta-percha. Once the root is filled, the top portion of the tooth is restored with the use of dental fillings like cement or composite resins.
Extensive dental cavities destroy the bulk of the tooth structure and weaken it. In such a situation, a regular dental filling cannot adequately restore the affected tooth’s shape, size, and function. When the bulk of the tooth structure has been destroyed, our dentist will recommend you go for dental crowns. Dental crowns can be described as a tooth cap that is fixed on the top portion of the tooth. Dental crowns restore the shape, size, strength as well as functions of the decayed tooth. Dental crowns are customised per individual cases and can be made from metal, porcelain, or metal fused to porcelain. Dental crowns also become essential after you have undergone a root canal treatment. Root canal treatments are known to weaken the tooth a little, and therefore, dental crowns are given.
If the dental cavity is extensive and has destroyed a majority of the tooth structure, our dentist will suggest you go for its removal. Any dentist will try their best to save the tooth; however, at times, it becomes impossible to save the tooth. Therefore, the tooth is extracted, and once the empty socket heals, you can go for its replacement with the help of dental implants, dental bridges or dentures.
How Can I Prevent Dental Cavities?
Prevention is always better than cure! So, here are our top tips that can help you prevent dental cavities and ensure that you stay at the top of your oral health.
- The most important tip we can give you for the prevention of dental decay is maintaining good oral hygiene. Use a good quality, soft-bristled nylon toothbrush and a fluoridated toothpaste to brush your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once before bed. It is important that you cover each and every tooth surface and ensure you are paying extra attention to the back teeth.
- Secondly, you must floss every day to remove any plaque and debris which may get accumulated between your teeth. Flossing is imperative to maintain good oral health.
- Make sure you always rinse your mouth after you eat something.
- You can also add a mouthwash to your regular oral hygiene routine. Mouthwash reaches the difficult to reach areas of the mouth and washes away any remaining debris.
- Schedule regular dental visits, at least once every six months, for a complete oral health check-up. This will enable you to stay ahead of any dental disease.
- The application of dental sealants on the back teeth helps seal the deep fissures and pits on your back teeth. These areas harbour bacteria and are difficult to clean.
- Most of the cities have their water sources fluoridated. Consume tap water to ensure you get your fluoride requirements met.
- Try to cut down on your consumption of sugary beverages, sodas, and candies as these can destroy your teeth’ enamel and give an energy source to the disease-causing bacteria.
- Have a colourful and balanced diet. This should not come as a surprise, as a healthy diet is a key to living a healthy life. Adding more vegetables and seasonal fruits to your diet will ensure you have proper nutrition. In addition, eating a fibrous diet increases the salivary flow and ensure your mouth remain clean.
- Consult a dentist to opt for professional fluoride treatment as it makes your teeth strong and resists dental decay.
Follow these simple tips to make sure that your mouth remains disease-free and you are healthy. If you have any more questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please reach out to us. Our team of friendly dental professionals will be there to assist you in your journey to better oral health.
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.