Tooth Decay and Cavities are not the same thing. However, one leads to the other. Tooth decay, also called dental caries, starts as plaque adheres to your teeth and builds up over time. Plaque acids attack your tooth enamel. If left unchecked, the acid can destroy the surface of your teeth. Eventually, it can create a hole in your tooth called a cavity.
The good news is, tooth decay and its effects are both preventable and reversible. Of course, you need to catch it early and practice good oral hygiene at home before cavities develop.
Tooth decay prevention
There are many things you can do to prevent tooth decay from occurring, stopping dental problems before they start. Develop these good habits to keep your smile healthy and bright.
- Brush Properly
To prevent plaque build-up and the resulting tooth decay, brush your teeth properly at least twice a day. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brush gently on the toothface, on the back of the tooth and along the gumline. However, don’t be overly aggressive, this too can lead to wear and tear on your teeth.
- Avoid dry mouth
Saliva is your mouth’s natural defense against bacteria and plaque. Keep yourself hydrated and chew sugarless gum to stimulate your saliva production and keep plaque from building up on your teeth.
- Watch sugar, sticky foods, and beverages
Sugar combines with a plaque to weaken your tooth enamel, leaving you vulnerable to damage from acids. Avoid these foods when you can and when you do eat a sweet treat, brush and rinse as soon as you can to fight its effects.
- Get regular dental cleanings
Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning. Your dentist can catch and treat tooth decay early to prevent cavities and irreversible damage to your teeth.
Treating tooth decay
Luckily, if tooth decay does occur, there are several things you can do to lessen and even reverse the damage before it becomes permanent.
- Fluoride gel or varnish can be applied to the teeth to help boost remineralization and help the tooth repair itself.
- Antiseptic gel or varnish can be applied to reduce the levels of cavity causing bacteria in your mouth.
- Liquid composite sealants can be applied to create a physical barrier between your teeth and the bacteria.
How do you know if your tooth decay has developed into a cavity? Look for these signs and check-in with your dentist regularly to spot cavities.
- Pain, or a toothache, is one of the most common symptoms of a cavity. Beyond a constant ache, this also can mean increased sensitivity when biting or putting pressure on the tooth.
- Sensitivity when eating hot and cold foods and drinks can be a sign of a cavity.
- Watch for a noticeable hole or pit in the affected tooth. Sometimes these holes are only visible on an x-ray so it’s important that you visit the dentist to get one regularly.
- One of the most serious signs of an advanced cavity is pus around a tooth.
Unfortunately, once a cavity has formed, the damage to the tooth is irreversible. The only option is to have a professional repair the tooth by cleaning out the affected area and filling in the hole. If left unrepaired, the cavity will only get bigger and the decay may eventually lead to infection and bone loss. It’s important to see your dentist get cavities filled quickly before further damage and infection occurs.
There are many choices of filling material available. Dentists can use gold, silver almalgum, resin composite, ceramic and glass ionomers. Each has their strengths and specific uses. Not all dentists offer every type of filling. Your choice may depend on a combination of availability, appearance, cost, and function.
Sometimes, enough of the tooth is already gone that you’ll need a crown. Your dentist will recommend a crown if you have a particularly weak tooth that needs to be held together or requires a bridge. Crowns are also sometimes used for cosmetic reasons, such as extreme discoloration. Crowns can be made of resin, ceramic, porcelain, or stainless steel. Your dentist can recommend what is best for your situation.
In severe cases of serious decay and infection in the tooth pulp, your dentist may need to perform a root canal, removing the nerve in an infected tooth, or the tooth may need to be removed.
While tooth decay and cavities go hand in hand, there is something you can do. Knowing the right way to avoid and treat tooth decay can save you the pain and cost of cavities down the road. Visit your dentist to find out if you have the early signs of tooth decay and how to treat it before you have to have a cavity filled. It is always a good idea to treat signs of decay and cavities swiftly, rather than waiting for things to worsen.