Cavities are holes that form in the teeth due to decay. They are a common yet highly preventable dental problem. Cavities are caused when bacteria, acids, foods, and other substances turn into plaque. If the plaque is not removed, it hardens and becomes tartar. A buildup of plaque and tartar wears away the hard outer layer of the tooth, exposing the softer inner part of the tooth known as pulp.
Symptoms of cavities include tooth sensitivity and pain, usually after hot or cold foods or drinks, as well as a visible hole in the tooth. However, most cavities are found during routine examinations by a dentist.
If left untreated, a cavity can become larger, leaving the tooth open to infection. This could cause a tooth abscess or ultimately the loss of a tooth. Cavities are treated in three ways, depending on the severity of the damage. They include:
The affected part of the tooth is drilled out and refilled—most commonly with a composite resin for the front teeth or an alloy or gold compound for the back teeth.
Larger cavities are treated with fittings that go over the remaining tooth. They are often made out of porcelain or gold.
If decay damages or kills the root of a tooth, a root canal might be necessary. In this procedure, the entire tooth is drilled out and replaced with a sealing material. A crown may be used for the top of the tooth, if needed.
Sticky, sugary foods and poor dental hygiene are the most common factors that cause cavities. Good oral hygiene, such as brushing your teeth twice a day and regular flossing are important in preventing cavities and other dental complications. Other methods used to prevent cavities include:
- using a fluoride toothpaste
- avoiding sweets
- regular dental checkups and cleanings
- getting dental sealants on your teeth