Perhaps one of the most dreaded phrases a child can hear a dentist say during a regular check-up is “You have a cavity.” Most of us learned about oral health, preventing tooth decay and cavities at a very young age. However, adults can get cavities, too. While people typically think of cavities mostly impacting children, adults often get cavities as their teeth age and decay over the years.
In order to keep your mouth healthy throughout your life, learn what causes a cavity, what a cavity is and the impact even a single cavity can have on your long-term oral health.
A cavity is best described as a hole in your tooth. Cavities are caused by tooth decay that has progressed enough to eliminate the enamel that separates saliva fromthe root of your tooth. As a result, nerves in your teeth become exposed and you may feel pain when you eat or drink. If you feel pain near the root of your tooth, chances are you may have some form of tooth decay and should consult with a dental professional. (1)
How can you be sure you have a cavity? During your regular dental exam, your dentist will always look for signs of tooth decay or cavities. This is done in various ways. First, your dentist will feel each of your teeth using a dental instrument. If the instrument “sticks” in your tooth, it means the tooth is damaged. A cavity can be also be detected through X-rays taken during your exam. An X-ray can often detect a cavity that cannot be seen otherwise, which is why it's important to visit your dentist regularly. (1)
What Causes a Cavity?
Tooth decay can lead to cavities in both adults and children. Tooth decay refers to damage of the structure of the tooth, including both the enamel and the inner layer of the tooth (otherwise known as dentin). This process is referred to as demineralization. This occurs when the food you eat is left on your teeth and is digested by the plaque bacteria in your mouth, creating acids as a by-product. Over time, these acids attack the enamel and cause minerals from the enamel to be released – the process of demineralization.
While it’s best to avoid getting them altogether, cavities are fairly simple to treat. The most basic form of treatment for a cavity is a filling, which is when the decayed portion of the tooth is drilled away and replaced with a strong filling made of either composite resins, porcelain, silver, gold, or amalgam. Treatment for more extensive cavities includes advanced techniques such as crowns and root canals. (1)
Just as you learned from your dentist at an early age, prevention is the best way to avoid a cavity. By preventing plaque build-up through a comprehensive oral hygiene routine, you can often prevent a cavity from occurring.