Besides regular check-ups, cavities are usually the most common reason for visiting a dentist. But patients often have questions about cavities and why they may be prone to getting them. Here’s a 101 on cavities plus tips on treating and preventing them!
How Do Cavities Happen?
The word cavity suggests a hole, and cavities are tiny holes in the teeth caused by tooth decay. When you eat (and especially when you eat sugary or starchy foods) a sticky coating called plaque can form on your teeth. The acids in that plaque attack your tooth’s enamel and then make their way into the inner layers of the tooth. Once it gets below that protective outer enamel, tooth decay has a pathway to the nerves causing pain and sensitivity. That’s why a cavity can lead to a toothache if it’s allowed to progress.
Are Cavities Caused By Genetics?
Genetics can play a role, and some people actually do have naturally weaker tooth enamel. But most of us can’t blame our genes. The Mayo Clinic’s dental team has identified a few habits that play a much bigger role in causing cavities. Here are some of the most common:
- Frequent snacking
- Drinking sugary beverages
- Not cleaning your teeth properly or regularly
- Lack of access to fluoride
According to the Mayo Clinic, your back molars are generally more susceptible to cavities because it’s easier for food particles to get trapped in their grooves … and the back of the mouth is where chewing really happens!
How Can I Prevent Cavities
Most experts agree that the best way to prevent cavities is to get a routine dental check-up and keep up with brushing and flossing on a regular basis. The Mayo Clinic and American Dental Association also recommend limiting consumption of sugary snacks and drinks and talking with your dentist about dental sealants which can provide ongoing protection against tooth decay in molars.
Can a Cavity Go Away on Its Own?
Ignoring a cavity and hoping it will go away is definitely not a good strategy. The longer a cavity is left alone, the deeper into your tooth it goes and the more complicated it will be to fix. However, if you catch a cavity very early, your dentist may be able to treat it with an intensive fluoride treatment rather than a filling, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Does My Dentist Fix a Cavity?
Fillings are still the most common way to treat cavities. But this tried and true method has gotten less painful–and less scary over the years.
Your dentist will remove the decay, clean the affected area and fill it in to avoid further decay.
Once your dentist has located the area of decay, he’ll numb the area around the tooth and remove the decay with a high-tech dental drill. He’ll then fill the hole with the filling material you choose based on your dentist’s recommendation. Options for filling materials include metal amalgam, tooth-colored composite material and gold.
Since cavities in young children are increasingly common, your dentist has another option for treating cavities in baby teeth. Silver diamine fluoride liquid is a quick and easy, pain-free way to stop cavities but does cause a noticeable dark discoloration, so it’s most frequently used on baby teeth that are going to fall out. However, it’s increasingly recognized as an option for stopping tooth decay.
Should I Choose A Metal Or Tooth-Colored Filling?
While old-school, high-quality gold fillings are still done, most patients either choose a metal amalgam or tooth-colored composite material. The choice is usually based on cost and the location of the tooth.
Metal amalgam, made up of a combination of metals, is safe, affordable and very long-lasting according to the ADA. It’s the least expensive filling material and is often a good choice for back molars that get lots of wear and tear.
Tooth-colored composite, made up of a plastic and glass mixture, tends to be pricier and slightly less durable than metal amalgam but is much more natural looking so can be used for front or back teeth because of its natural appearance. Many patients end up having old metal fillings replaced with composite for cosmetic reasons.
Tooth Decay? Don’t Panic But Head To Your Dentist Soon!
Cavities are a common problem and one your dentist successfully treats every day. So there’s no cause for panic or fear if you think you have tooth decay. But early detection is key since catching tooth decay earlier almost always means an easier and less expensive fix. So be sure to keep up with those regular check-ups. And of course, preventing cavities in the first place is best of all. At Greenhill, we’re happy to talk with you about great habits to keep tooth decay away!