Dental caries, also referred to as cavities and tooth decay, are both common and preventable. We’ve all probably already experienced or will get at least one cavity at some point in our lives. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with dental caries, treating them, and preventing them.
When we eat, bacteria break down any leftover food that’s still in our mouths and secretes acid as a result. These acids attack the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth), weaken the tooth, and can cause gum disease. Dental caries can appear in two forms:
- Occlusal caries: Form on the area right on top of the tooth and are easy to spot.
- Interproximal caries: Form in between teeth and can go unnoticed in their initial stages.
Not properly cleaning teeth is often a primary cause of dental caries. Brushing, flossing, and rinsing removes the harmful bacteria, acid, and plaque buildup that contributes to cavities.
Most people are susceptible to dental caries, especially those of us who consume foods heavy in sugars or carbohydrates. Here are the common signs to look for if a cavity begins to form:
- Weakened enamel
- Increased sensitivity
- Small holes on the surface of the tooth
- Discoloration around a specific spot
- Pits in the affected tooth
- Persistent toothache
As dental caries take shape, enamel demineralizes and the tooth loses its natural ability to strengthen and protect the calcium and phosphate structure. Acid then comes into contact with the affected tooth, penetrating it and destroying it from the inside out.
Dental caries are easily treatable by your dentist. Depending on the stage of decay, the following four treatments are most common in taking care of a cavity:
- Fillings: Most common treatment for cavities, your dentist will drill into the affected tooth and remove the decayed portion before filling in the now-empty space.
- Crowns: If most of the tooth has begun to decay then your dentist will fit you for a crown to cover the remaining part of the tooth and protect it from further damage.
- Root Canal: If the decay reaches your nerves, then a procedure is undertaken to remove damaged or dead nerves to prevent further impairment and infection.
- Extraction: In severe cases, or baby teeth, the affected tooth is completely removed by the root. For adults, the decay damage may be beyond repair, and to prevent infection your dentist will simply pull out the entire tooth. If this happens, options for preserving your smile include partial dentures, bridges, and implants.
Though dental caries can lead to severe damage and sometimes tooth loss, they are highly preventable. Following a good oral care routine is often your best bet in ensuring cavities don’t take root:
- Brush twice daily to remove tartar and plaque buildup
- Switch from a manual to an electric toothbrush for a more complete, tooth-by-tooth clean
- Floss at least once a day to get rid of any buildup between teeth and along the gum line
- Incorporate a rinse into your daily regimen to better remove any leftover particles
- Use fluoride products to reduce acid production such as Crest Pro-Health toothpaste
- Be sure to visit your dental professional at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups
With proper oral care and dental checkups, you’ll stay a step ahead of dental caries for healthier teeth and gums.
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