Cavities are one of our most common health problems. They are caused by bacteria that eat through the tooth structure causing holes that may or may not be readily visible. Cavities are also called caries or tooth decay. Anyone, at any age, is susceptible to them.
If a cavity is not treated when it is small, it will progress to destroying large segments of the tooth, invading the nerve (pulp) and necessitating root canal therapy, or even necessitating removal of the tooth. Should tooth loss occur, dental implants are often an excellent solution to replacing them.
Despite common perception, most times cavities are without symptoms. The vast majority of patients are completely unaware that they have cavities until we point them out on their x-rays or show them with our intraoral camera. However, when they progress and become larger in size you may experience the following symptoms:
- Hot or cold sensitivity when eating or drinking
- Pain upon biting
- Toothache that occurs spontaneously or after eating or drinking
- Visible holes or staining on your teeth that can vary from light tan to brown or even almost black
Tooth decay is caused by plaque, which is a sticky film containing bacteria that feed on a diet high in sugars or carbohydrates. The sugar can come from frequent snacks, sugary drinks, or even frequently eating healthy sugary food such as fruit throughout the day. Plaque accumulates due to poor oral hygiene and infrequent dental cleanings.
If the plaque remains on your teeth it hardens in a solidified substance called tartar (calculus). Tartar is resistant to tooth brushing and can only be removed by a thorough dental cleaning. If left on your teeth, especially under the gumline, calculus can lead to periodontal disease and even tooth loss.
Acids produced by plaque erode through the hard, outer enamel and into the softer dentin which is less resistant to the bacterial intrusion. Tubules in the dentin can carry the bacteria and the acid deep into the pulp (nerve) which contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. Once infected, the pulp becomes swollen, expands within the tooth and causes pain. This pain can extend past the root into the bone.
Other Causes and Risk Factors
- GERD Gastroesophageal reflux disease or heartburn
- Eating Disorders such as anorexia and bulimia
- Broken down fillings and crowns (caps)
- Infrequent or inadequate tooth brushing
- Age is a factor – Young children and teenagers are commonly susceptible to cavities. Older adults are at risk who have worn-down teeth, receded gums, old dental work, dry mouth or inadequate brushing due to decreased motor skills.
Good salivary flow is essential to maintaining a healthy mouth and preventing cavities. Dry mouth also called xerostomia, is a common and uncomfortable condition that occurs when your mouth is not producing enough saliva. This condition can be caused by over 1000 different prescription medications, aging, or systemic diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and others. Individuals with diabetes may experience dry mouth when their blood sugar levels become too high. While smoking doesn’t cause xerostomia, it may aggravate the condition.
In addition to cavities, dry mouth can cause bad breath (halitosis), burning tongue, cracked lips, ill-fitting dentures, and difficulty swallowing.
Thorough yet gentle cleaning with one of our highly skilled hygienists is essential to maintain a healthy mouth. Proper oral hygiene instructions, use of an electric toothbrush, daily flossing, a healthy diet free of unnecessary carbohydrates and sugar, brushing or rinsing after eating or drinking, and regular professional cleanings all help plaque to a minimum.
For certain conditions, Dr. Levy might prescribe prescription fluoride in the form of a rinse or toothpaste. Fluoride makes the tooth structure more resistant to the acid from bacteria in the plaque.
If you have a toothache or other dental emergency Dr. Steven Levy is always available to relieve your discomfort. Please call us today, at Progressive Dentistry Phone Number 516-378-8600, for an appointment or if you want further information on how to keep your mouth healthy.