How are cavities developed? Definition: Cavities are also known as tooth decay. Cavities are the damaged areas that are formed on the hard surface of the tooth. They slowly develop into tiny openings or holes on the teeth. Cavities are caused due to various factors like bacteria inside the mouth, eating snacks too often, drinking sugary liquids and not cleaning the teeth properly. Cavities are one of the most common health problems in the world. It is mostly seen in children, teenagers and older adults. But it is not restricted to this age group; anyone with teeth can get cavities. If the cavities are not treated on time, the cavities enlarge and affect the innermost layers of the tooth. This can cause severe toothache, infection and even loss of tooth. Regular dental check-ups and proper brushing and flossing are the best ways to prevent cavities. Symptoms: The symptoms caused by cavities differ, basis the severity of the cavity and the location. When the cavities are just beginning to form it may not cause any symptoms. Once the decay starts growing it will lead to some signs and symptoms like;
Toothache Tooth sensitivity Pain that can be mild or severe while eating or drinking anything that is sweet, cold or hot Formation of visible holes on the decayed tooth Staining on the surface of the tooth which can be brown, black or white in color
Causes: Cavities are formed due to decay of tooth which is a gradual process. Given below are the stages in which the tooth decay develops;
Plaque formation – There are many types of bacteria inside the mouth. Some of the bacteria thrive on food and drinks that contain sugar. When this sugar content is not properly removed from the
teeth, the bacteria inside the mouth will start feeding on this and start producing acid. The bacteria will slowly start forming bacterial plaque which is like a sticky film that coats the teeth. One can feel this plaque formation, by running their tongue along the teeth. It has a little rough texture and is mostly felt in the back teeth particularly close to the gums. If the plaque is not cleaned when it is soft, it will slowly become hard and more difficult to be cleaned. And this will be a good place for the bacteria to hide and start the decay process. Plaque attacks – The acid which is present in the plaque start removing the minerals on the outer enamel of the tooth. This wearing out leads to small openings or holes in the enamel which is the first stage of development of cavities. Once the enamel is worn out, it becomes easy for the bacteria and acid to reach the second layer of the teeth which is known as dentin. This layer is much softer than the enamel and cannot resist the acid like the outer layer. More destruction – In this stage the tooth decay increases further, the bacteria and acid reach the inner most layer of the teeth known as the dental pulp, this contains nerves and blood vessels. The pulp gets inflamed due to the bacteria attack. In this stage, one may experience unbearable tooth pain, sensitivity, pain while eating anything or some other symptoms. The body might send white blood cells to fight against the infection and bacteria attack. This can cause tooth abscess, a condition in which there is pus formation due to the bacterial infection.
Risk factors: Anyone who has teeth can develop cavities, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing cavities, which are;
Tooth location – Tooth decay mostly occurs in the back teeth since they have lot of grooves, gaps and pits in which the food can get collected. Therefore it is more difficult to keep the back teeth clean as compared to the teeth in front. Plaque build-up and bacteria can easily survive on the back teeth and damage the tooth enamel. Specific food and drinks – There are certain type of foods that stick to the teeth for a longer time like, milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dry fruits, cake, cookies, candies, mints, chips etc. and these are likely to cause tooth decay.
Regular snacking and sipping – Continuous snacking and drinking soda will give the bacteria in the mouth more chance to product acid that will cause the tooth decay. And drinking soda or other aerated drinks on a daily basis gives constant acid bath over the teeth. Infant feeding at bedtime – Babies should be avoided given bedtime bottle feeds of milk, formula, juice or any other sugary liquids. These fluids remain on the teeth till morning allowing the bacteria to thrive on this and produce acid that can decay the teeth. Insufficient brushing – One must brush the teeth twice a day to avoid plaque formation on the teeth. Insufficient fluoride – Fluoride is a natural mineral that helps prevent tooth decay and reverse the effect of initial stages of tooth damage. Thus fluoride is added to a lot of public water supplies and even bottled water. It is also added in most of the toothpastes and mouth washes.
Treatment: The treatment of cavities will depend on the severity of the decay and the condition of the patient. The different treatment options include;
Fluoride treatment – If the cavity is in the initial stage, then a fluoride treatment should be enough to restore the tooth’s enamel. Fluoride treatments can be in differ form like liquid, gel, foam or varnish which is applied onto the teeth or poured on a tray that fits on the teeth. Filling – Filling is the most common options for treating tooth decay that has progressed beyond the initial stage of decay. Crown – If there is severe damage or weekend tooth, then crown is the ideal option. This is a customized covering which will replace the existing tooth’s natural crown. Root canal – When the dental pulp of the tooth gets decayed, then root canal is the best option. In this option, the infected pulp is removed and replaced with a filling. Medication is applied onto the roots of the decayed tooth to avoid any infection. Extraction – When the decay is very severe and cannot be treated with any of the above options, then extraction is the only solution.