Cavities - A Deep Dive

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
April 9, 2020

Woman picking out candy at a shop

Whether you’ve been lucky enough to never have been diagnosed with them, or you have had to get multiple fillings throughout the years, everyone dreads being told that they have cavities.

But what are cavities, exactly? What causes them, and what can be done to prevent them? We cover the basics below so you can take extra steps towards avoiding the problems that result from extensive tooth decay.

What Are Cavities?

A cavity, or hole in a tooth, is the result of decay that has eaten away at the outer layer, and potentially the inner layer, of a tooth.

How does decay occur? Put simply, when you eat food that contains sugar or carbs, the bacteria that are already in your mouth end up creating acids. And if you eat or drink something that makes your mouth more acidic, that might also cause enamel erosion that may contribute to the development of a cavity.

Also, the combination of acid, bacteria, leftover food, and saliva create plaque on your teeth, and the acids in that plaque end up eroding your enamel. If the plaque isn’t brushed away, the damage becomes greater, especially because plaque can harden into tartar that can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning.

Are There Symptoms?

Symptoms of cavities might include:

  • Pain that ranges from mild to sharp when you eat or drink
  • Pain when biting
  • Sensitivity
  • Spontaneous toothache  that seems to happen for no reason
  • Visible stains  , pits, or holes in a tooth

Another unnerving thing about cavities: they don’t always cause symptoms! You could be completely unaware of the decay that’s going on in a tooth until you visit your dentist for a checkup and he or she takes x-rays that reveal the extent of the damage.

When you do feel sensitivity or a toothache, such as after you drink or eat something that’s cold, hot, or sweet, it likely means that the decay has made its way deeper into the tooth, to the point that the nerve is being affected. Ouch!

How Can Cavities Be Prevented and Treated?

With cavities, it’s all about prevention.

Although you might be able to slow, or perhaps even halt, the progression of enamel loss on a tooth’s surface if you’re really diligent with brushing, flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, and seeing your dentist, it’ll be too late if the bacteria get into your tooth. At that point, you won’t be able to brush away the bacteria and the decay it’s causing.

So, once you’ve been diagnosed with a cavity, you’ll need to go to the dentist to fix it, or it will keep getting worse. Bummer.

Thankfully, there are several treatment options available to fix cavities:

  • If the damage isn’t extensive, you might just need a filling  , during which the dentist removes the decayed parts of the tooth and fills in the gap with a special amalgam or composite filling.
  • When the damage goes deeper into the tooth, such as when you feel a toothache and you head to the dentist for answers, a simple filling might not be enough. Instead, a root canal  might be required. This involves removing the pulp and nerve, and then cleaning and sealing the inside of the tooth before adding a crown to the top.
  • In really extreme cases of a cavity getting so bad that there aren’t any viable treatment options, only an extraction will be able to fix the problem and prevent complications. Now, that’s intense!

Want to prevent cavities? There are plenty of steps that you can take, such as those below, and you can also ask your dentist for personalized advice:

  • Avoid snacking frequently, and avoid sipping on sugary or acidic beverages throughout the day
  • Use a mouthwash  after eating, or at least rinse your mouth with water to help clear away leftover food particles
  • Avoid sticky, starchy, and sugary foods, and eat plenty of healthy options  like fresh fruits and veggies
  • Brush twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste, and floss at least once a day
  • See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings

A Final Cavity Prevention Tip:

With the right dental insurance plan, you never have to skip a beat, especially if you have a Spirit plan  that offers perks like three cleanings per year  to keep your teeth sparkling, strong, and cavity-free!

Be Aware of the Risk of Cavities, but Put Yourself in Control

Sure, cavities are scary, but the sooner you find out about them and get them fixed, the better. That’s why it’s so important to not only take great care of your teeth at home, but also visit your dentist on a regular basis.


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