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Cavities: Causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Cavities are like the boogeyman of dentistry; parents use them as a threat to get their children to brush and floss. As a consequence, we grow up fearing them and trying to avoid them like the plague.

Just like its name implies, a cavity is an orifice on the tooth; and it’s the byproduct of tooth decay. While in theory, there are many causes for decay, the most common by far is bacteria. As these pesky microorganisms eat food residue, they release an acid which slowly dissolves the tooth. Additionally, the mix between acid, bacteria, saliva and food form a solid crust called tartar which clings to the teeth; the tartar forces back the gums as it grows, exposing the teeth’s root and facilitating infections.

Folks who’ve had fillings may also experience tooth decay; as time passes the tooth erodes but the filling remains in place, the resulting pocket becomes an ideal environment for bacteria to growth and propagate, and the rest is history.

How can I tell if I have cavities?

Unfortunately, it can be really hard to tell if you have cavities, especially if the decay has only affected the enamel. In some cases you might experience slight sensitivity; but as the decay progresses you will experience into a very painful toothache; at that point, the root is probably infected, and you will need a root canal.

Your regular dentist checkup is the best method to detect cavities; your dentist can easily spot any orifices on the enamel or use an x-ray to find any possible root cavities.

Halitosis is another symptom commonly associated with cavities; if you are experiencing bad breath for no discernable reason get checked, better be safe than sorry.

How to fix a cavity

It depends; if the damage is small, the dentist will just need to drill a little, clean the area, and use a special solution known as a filling. A filling is a special material the dentist uses to repair the damaged area; it used to be made out of a metal alloy; but nowadays dentists use a porcelain resin which is almost indistinguishable from regular teeth.

On the other hand, if there is a lot of decay, then you might need a new crown. The dentist removes the enamel and replaces it with a crown. On the other hand, if the root is damaged, a root canal might be in order, or in the worst case scenario a tooth extraction.


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