Tooth decay or cavity are areas in your teeth’s hard surface that have permanent damage. These develop into tiny holes or openings. Several factors cause it, including drinking/eating sugary food, improper brushing, and bacteria inside the mouth.
These holes start small and grow big and deep over time. Another name for it is dental caries. If you have it, it is important to see a dentist immediately and seek consultation.
You will learn more about dental caries in the following sections. It includes its causes, stages, and early signs. You will also learn how to avoid it if you do not have it yet.
What causes cavities?
The culprit is tooth decay, a long process occurring over time. The more appropriate question here is, “What causes tooth decay?” Some believe only children can get it, but the truth is anyone can have it, regardless of age, gender, and race.
Plaque is a bacteria-sticky film. It covers your teeth. After eating or drinking, the bacteria convert the sugar to acid. The same acid smashes the enamel. It is the normal cycle, but the problem starts if the decay gets through the enamel. It forms a cavity. It spreads through several layers deep.
Untreated decay will cause pain and infection in several parts of your mouth. It can spread and may lead to tooth loss. You may experience trouble sleeping and eating, disrupting your daily activities.
The following outlines its development.
- The plaque forms – As mentioned above, it is a film-like coat covering your teeth. It comes from starches and sugars you consume and improper cleaning. Plaque quickly forms if you do not clean it properly. If it hardens, it turns into tartar/calculus. You will find it above or under the gumline.
- The plaque attacks – The acid strips off minerals on the enamel. Erosion leads to the formation of tiny holes, the first stage of cavity development. Once it destroys the enamel, acid and bacteria reach the dentin, the next layer. The dentin is softer and has lower resistance to acid. This layer also connects directly to the nerves, making them highly sensitive.
- Destruction will get worse – The acid and bacteria will continue destroying your teeth until it reaches the inner layer. The pulp layer contains blood vessels and nerves, which get swollen because of the germs. It presses the nerves because there is not enough space inside to expand, resulting in discomfort or pain. It can extend outside the teeth.
What is the stage called when the cell mass forms a hollow cavity?
The third stage causes the cell mass to form hollow cavities. The lesions in your teeth will progress to wear down until it reaches the dentin – the next layer. You can find the dentin behind the enamel, which covers the pulp. This layer has several tubules connecting to the inner nerves.
Early signs of a cavity to look out for
The following are early signs of cavity development. We recommend seeing a dental professional if you encounter any of these signs. Early detection and treatment will increase the chances of curing it. You may feel these signs in any order. You can also experience two or more symptoms at the same time.
General tooth sensitivity
It feels like there is sensitivity ranging from mild to severe. Sensitivity is one of the several symptoms that may occur out of the blue. It is an early sign, and you should take action to prevent damage from progressing into the deeper layers.
Drinking or eating pain
If you eat or drink something hot or cold, you may experience pain or sensitivity in certain areas of your mouth. The discomfort should already be there and intensified by the heat or cold. Moreover, sweet drinks or foods can also trigger sensitivity. If you encounter any of these, we recommend seeing a dentist. A dentist should be able to detect if the pain is because of a cavity or other reasons.
Feeling pain when applying pressure to your teeth by biting down can also relate to dental or cavity issues. A sharp pain characterizes it.
The early stages of a cavity may not come with pain, which makes it hard to detect any decay. You may develop pain in your teeth or toothache if untreated. The pain characterizes as lingering and intensifies when you are talking or eating.
Tiny holes can form because of the cavity. The decay is likely occurring here.
A pit, dent, or hole could be a sign of it. If you see any of these, we recommend visiting your dentist as soon as possible.
Tooth discoloration is another sign of cavity building up or existing. A stain in the color of brown, bright white, or black is all symptoms. A visit to your dentist is the best way to determine if it’s a natural stain or related to a cavity.
Bacteria lingering may lead to bad breath. Cavities can collect and store particles, eventually leading to a breeding ground for bacteria.
Cavity Enamel Erosion Stages
There are five tooth decay stages. It can happen in any portion, including the front tooth.
Stage 1 – Early Cavity
Enamel is the layer covering the outer part of your teeth. It is the hardest tissue in the human body, made of minerals. Whenever your teeth get into contact with plaque, the enamel loses minerals. You may notice a white spot, indicating the area where minerals were lost. It is also an early sign of tooth decay.
Stage 2 – Enamel Decay
The enamel decay happens whenever acids do not successfully wash away. It does not start from the first time acid had contact with it, but rather a repeated attack until your teeth cannot handle it anymore. As soon as the decay process starts, there is no way to restore the minerals. Lesions will begin forming with the tooth, turning into a hole eventually.
You will unlikely feel pain at stage two because there are no nerves in this area. However, your dentist can still treat stage two and prevent it from developing into a cavity. Dental practitioners usually use dental sealants or fluoride treatments to prevent progression.
Stage 3 – Dentin Decay
Untreated lesions will continue to wear until it reaches the dentin layer, which is hidden under the enamel and covers the pulp. The dentin layer contains multiple microscopic tubules, allowing access to your teeth’ nerves.
Whenever nerves are exposed, external stimuli can reach the dentin. It causes you to feel discomfort and pain. A restoration treatment by a dental professional is encouraged at this stage. Otherwise, the decay will progress until it reaches the pulp.
Stage 4 – Pulp Damage
The pulp is a substance you will find at the tooth’s center. All the nerve endings and blood vessels end in this layer. You may experience severe pain when the decay reaches this layer. The only procedure to salvage your tooth is through a root canal procedure. The root canal involves the extraction of the pulp.
Stage 5 – Abscess
An abscess can form if the decay goes past the pulp. It refers to an infection of the root, which is more painful than what you would experience at stage four.
This infection is more dangerous because it can damage the surrounding tissues and the jawbone. The treatment for this is likely surgery. We recommend visiting a dentist immediately for professional advice.
How to tell if you have a cavity?
Everyone can get cavities, but the following items below increase your risk. These are also signs telling you may also have it.
- The location of your tooth – The back teeth, specifically the premolars and molars, are most prone to decay. These have several pits, grooves, multiple roots, and crannies where particles can accumulate. These areas are tougher to maintain and keep clean, unlike the front portion, which you can maintain easily. It can lead to visible holes, sensitivity, and sharp pain as you drink or eat.
- Sensitivity for drinks and food items – Soda, ice cream, sugar, milk, cake, mints, dry cereals, and dried fruit are products that stick to your teeth for a long. These can trigger decay then products saliva can easily wash away.
- Regular snacking or drinking – If you love drinking or snacking, bacteria growth increases because you are providing fuel to it. These wear you down and attack your teeth. Drinking soda or any carbonated/acidic beverage will damage the protective film layer. We recommend drinking more water instead because it is harmful to you.
- Feeding your infant during bedtime – If you give your baby feeding bottles to sip, it goes on for hours. It can remain in their mouth and teeth for hours, leading to permanent damage.
- Inadequate or irregular brushing – Clean it after eating or drinking to wash away bacteria. Plaque easily forms and progresses to the first stage of decay.
- Not having enough fluoride – Fluoride naturally occurs and prevents cavities from forming. It can reverse early development. You can find fluoride in waterline supplies, mouthwashes, and toothpaste.
- A person’s age – Teenagers, young children, and older adults are most susceptible to cavities in the United States. A person’s teeth will wear down over time. The gums will also recede, making these people prone to developing root decay. Older people taking saliva-reducing medication have a higher risk too.
- Dry mouth – Saliva prevents tooth decay by cleansing plaque and food. Saliva also has components that counter the production of bacteria. Some treatments or medications may reduce saliva production, increasing the chances of developing cavities. If you are under these treatments, you may likely have it.
- Dental devices and fillings that have worn out – If you have dental fillings, they will weaken and break down over time. Decay will start underneath it if that is the case.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – GERD or heartburn may cause acid reflux, wearing down the enamel coating, and inflicting damage.
- Eating disorders – Bulimia and anorexia cause cavities and erosion because of acid from the vomit. It flows through your teeth and dissolves the enamel in the process. It can also interfere with your body’s saliva production, causing more issues.
How to avoid cavities
The prevention of tooth decay starts with preventing the build-up of plaque. The following points should help avoid cavities from occurring.
- Floss and rinse whenever you are eating something carbohydrate high, acidic, and sticky. Citrus fruits and chocolate are most notorious for these.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with toothpaste that has fluoride.
- Remove food debris using floss or interdental cleaners.
- Talk to your dentist regarding dental sealants to protect your molar from decay.
- Kill dental plaque by using fluoride mouthwash once a day.
- Visit your dentist annually for oral cleaning and checkups.
How to get rid of cavities at home
Several home treatments can prevent them from happening. Vitamin D deficiency will make your teeth more prone to decay. Once it develops, you can no longer cure it with home remedies.
Vitamin D helps absorb phosphate and calcium from whatever you are eating. The most common sources of vitamin D are the sun and dairy products, such as yogurt and milk.
Clinical trials prove to chew sugar-free gum after a meal provides minerals to the enamel. These trials use gum with xylitol. It increases saliva flow, reducing S. mutans, and raises the potential hydrogen level of plaque.
Use fluoride toothpaste when brushing.
Fluoride toothpaste plays an important role in remineralizing enamel and preventing the development of cavities. Research shows regular brushing prevents its build-up. However, these studies involved adolescents and children. More study is needed for the elderly and adults.
Reduce sugary foods
Eating too many sugary foods will increase your risk of developing a cavity. Reducing your sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake should save you from it.
I have a hole in the tooth but no pain.
Most people will not mind a hole in their tooth if not associated with pain. They will likely ignore it until discomfort starts to creep in. However, anyone who notices a hole in their tooth should see a dental professional as soon as possible.
A hole is a sign of a cavity, even without pain. Acid and bacteria can penetrate the hole, where bacteria will grow, and tooth decay will thrive.
Your oral health impacts your overall quality of life, so we recommend seeking professional advice.
The following are the frequently asked questions.
Can a cavity go away on its own?
No, cavities do not go away on their own. You need to consult a dental professional right away and seek treatment. They may use a dental drill to remove or clean it.
What is the best treatment for tooth decay?
Restorations or fillings are the primary treatment for tooth decay. Other treatments will be fluoride treatments, root canals, crowns, and tooth extractions.
The treatment is dependent on the damage level. Tooth extractions and root canals are the best treatment for severe damage or decay.
What happens if tooth decay is left untreated?
An untreated decay will cause infection, leading to an abscess.
Can you fix an early cavity?
In its earliest stage, treatments with fluoride may restore the enamel layer. It’s effectively reversing the cavity from further developing.