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Cavities can take months or even years to spread to the dentin and/ or pulp, causing symptoms like:
According to Dr. David Chen, DDS, “the symptoms of dental cavities will vary depending on the stage of the cavity and size of it. For small cavities in the early stages, there are usually no symptoms, which is why most people are unaware that they even have them.”
“For medium sized cavities that have grown beyond the enamel and into the dentin of the tooth, patients will start to feel sensitivity to either sweet, cold, or hot,” he adds. “For large cavities that have grown beyond the dentin and into the nerve of the tooth, symptoms such as a constant dull ache or a throbbing pain becomes common.”
Therefore, Dr. Chen says seeking out early treatment is not only a wise health decision but also a great financial decision. Your future self will thank you for taking care of cavities early.
Dental professionals recommend regular dental checkups and cleanings to catch tooth decay early.
You should see a dentist if you experience any symptoms, including:
Teeth are made of three primary layers: enamel (hard outer layer), dentin (soft middle layer), and pulp (root with nerves and blood supply).
A cavity, also called tooth decay or dental caries, is a hole caused by bacteria that starts in the enamel. If left untreated, it can progress to the dentin and pulp and ultimately cause infection, pain, and tooth loss. A cavity will not go away on its own.
The natural bacteria in your mouth feed off the food you eat, creating acidic byproducts and dental plaque (a sticky coating). When food sits on the teeth for long periods of time, the acid starts to decay the enamel, causing a hole. If the hole is not repaired, the decay can progress into the dentin and pulp, causing sensitivity, pain, and/ or infection.
There are three types of cavities:
Cavities can develop in both the front teeth and back teeth, depending on various habits. They usually start off as white spots and progress into yellow, brown, or black holes.
Cavities are a common health concern, with over 90% of adults having at least one cavity in their lifetime. Over half of children between the ages of 6 and 8 have had one or more cavities in their baby teeth.1
Bacteria thrive off the sugar particles left on teeth after eating and drinking. One of the byproducts of bacteria is acid, which erodes tooth enamel over time.
If a dentist does not treat a cavity in the enamel, the tooth decay can spread to the tooth's inner layers, causing pain and dangerous infection that can travel to other parts of the body.
Common risk factors associated with the formation of cavities include:
During a routine dental exam, the dentist will take X-rays and look in your mouth for visible signs of cavities and gum disease.
According to Dr. David Chen, an early cavity is nearly undetectable to the naked eye and dental X-rays. It is not until the cavity achieves approximately 30% of tooth demineralization that it starts to appear on X-rays. Once it reaches this threshold, dentists can detect a visual change in the enamel to one of two colors, white or brown. As the cavity progresses, it turns into a darker shade of brown until it forms a cavitation or hole in the tooth.
Because a cavity can’t heal on its own, it needs to be treated promptly. In the early stages, prescription-based fluoride toothpaste can help slow decay progression.
Treatment will depend on the type of cavity and tooth location. Common options include:
If left untreated, cavities can cause irreversible tooth damage, resulting in tooth loss.
The tooth decay process can also cause difficulty eating, severe pain, and infection. A tooth abscess (or pocket of pus) can form and spread to other areas in the body. An untreated abscess can be fatal.
Oral health is a critical part of overall health. Regular dental checkups are recommended to prevent cavities.
Other tips on preventing tooth decay include:
Cavities are holes in the teeth caused by bacteria that produce acids. They start as small white spots on teeth that turn darker as they progress into the dentin and pulp.
Because oral health is directly linked to physical health, an infection caused by a cavity can spread to the rest of your body. It’s recommended to get regular dental checkups and cleanings. Visit a dentist sooner if you experience pain, tooth sensitivity, or difficulty chewing.
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