Cavities, or tooth decay, are one of the most common oral issues worldwide. Up to 90% of school-aged children have some form of tooth decay and in adults, that number is almost 100%. Although cavities are common, there are ways you can prevent them and keep your mouth healthy.
What Are Cavities?
Cavities are pockets of decay that develop in our teeth. They’re called cavities because they are actually tiny holes (or cavities) that develop as the tooth decays.
Cavities are more common in children, due to the fact that children often eat sugary foods and aren’t as good at brushing their teeth properly. That said, cavities can develop in adults as well.
Adults typically get recurrent cavities or root cavities. Recurrent cavities are cavities that form around the filling of a previous cavity when food becomes trapped, often as the filling wears away or breaks.
Root cavities are cavities that form around the root or base of the teeth. This type of cavity often affects adults and seniors and occurs when the gum line recedes. If the gum line recedes, the vulnerable area of the tooth’s root is exposed. This area does not have a protective layer of enamel, making it more susceptible to cavities.
How to Tell If You Have a Cavity
Cavities can appear in many different ways and come with many different symptoms. The best way to tell if you have a cavity is to visit your dentist for a dental exam and diagnosis.
Some signs you should visit the dentist about a cavity include:
- Brown, black, or white staining on your teeth
- Pits or holes in your teeth
- Toothache or tooth pain
- Spontaneous pain
- Pain when biting down
- Sensitivity to sweet, hot, or cold food
To check your children for cavities, lift their lips up and examine their teeth once per month. Pay close attention to the “necks” of the teeth, next to the gumline and look for the signs above.
You or your child might be at a greater risk of developing cavities if you have:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Worn fillings
- Don’t get enough fluoride
- Dry mouth
- Eating disorders (anorexia or bulimia)
How Cavities Form
When we eat, trace amounts of food are left on the teeth. The trace amount of food is known as plaque. If the plaque is not brushed away, the bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugars in the plaque. As the bacteria consume the sugars, they produce acid as a byproduct. This acid is what ultimately erodes our teeth and causes cavities.
The more sugary or carbohydrate-heavy foods you eat, the more food there is for the bacteria, and the more likely you are to develop cavities. Foods like bread, cookies, muffins, candy, soda, and juice make our teeth especially vulnerable to cavities.
What to Do If You Have a Cavity
The best thing to do if you have a cavity, or you think you have a cavity, is to visit the dentist. Your dentist will be able to make a diagnosis, and if the issue is a cavity, they will be able to recommend the appropriate treatment.
How Are Cavities Treated?
In most cases, cavities are treated with dental fillings. The 2 main types of dental fillings are indirect or direct fillings. Indirect fillings, like ceramic fillings, are typically made in a lab and are designed to fit on or over your natural tooth. Direct fillings, like silver (amalgam) fillings, are inserted directly into the cavity.
Your dentist will assess the cavity and recommend a filling type based on the size and location of your cavity. Once you and your dentist have decided on a filling type, your dentist can proceed with the treatment. Direct fillings can often be installed in one visit after the tooth decay is removed with a drill. Indirect fillings usually take 2 visits, an initial visit to measure your tooth and a second visit to install the filling after it has been made in a lab.
How To Prevent Cavities
Practice Good Oral Hygiene
One of the best ways to prevent cavities is by practicing good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Another good way to prevent cavities is by eating healthy. Avoid sugary foods, especially sticky foods. Sticky foods adhere to the teeth and worsen the cavity-causing effects of sugar.
It’s also best to avoid snacking to limit your teeth’s exposure to sugar, but if you do need a snack, choose foods like celery or carrots. Vegetables have less sugar and stiff veggies help to remove plaque from your teeth as you eat.
Finally, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, especially during and after meals. Water helps to rinse your mouth and remove some of the sugary plaque that leads to cavities.
Preventing Cavities in Children
As soon as your child’s first teeth grow in, they can get cavities. Even though children’s baby teeth will eventually fall out, it’s still important to care for their teeth properly to prevent potentially painful and progressive dental problems.
Visit the dentist for a pediatric dental exam 6 months after your child gets their first tooth or visit around the time they turn 1 year old. Make sure you’re encouraging your kids to brush their teeth and floss too, as this will help to prevent cavities and build good oral hygiene habits for life.
Limit your child’s sugar intake. Sippy cups with sugary beverages are especially bad, as they continuously fill your child’s mouth with sugar. Don’t give your children sippy cups with sugary beverages including juice or milk. Give them water instead and don’t let them eat or drink anything other than water after brushing their teeth for bedtime.
If you’re concerned about cavities for you or your child, it’s never a bad idea to visit your dentist. Your dentist can examine your teeth for cavities and make sure you’re practicing good oral hygiene. For comprehensive family dentistry in Calgary, book your appointment at West 85th Dental.