According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), within the last decade, roughly 17 percent Trusted Source of children ages 5 to 19 had untreated cavities.
Cavities, also called dental caries, are the result of untreated tooth decay. Over time, this tooth decay can cause holes that go deep into your teeth, sometimes all the way to the root.
Luckily, early cavities can be prevented — and even heal on their own — with the right approach to oral hygiene.
Tooth decay and the subsequent development of cavities happens when your teeth are exposed to acids produced by oral bacteria.
Over time, frequent exposure to these acidic byproducts causes a breakdown in the minerals of your teeth.
There are five stages of tooth decay that contribute to the development of a cavity:
- Demineralization. The first stage of tooth decay occurs when the enamel is exposed to acids from bacteria interacting with sugars and starches.
- Enamel decay. The second stage of decay happens when the enamel continues to break down. At this stage, holes (cavities) can form in your teeth.
- Dentin decay. The third stage of tooth decay occurs once the decay reaches the dentin, which is the soft tissue underneath the enamel. At this stage of decay, the cavity will most likely be painful.
- Pulp decay. The final, major stage of decay is when the cavity has reached the pulp, which houses the nerves and blood vessels in your tooth. Once the pulp has been reached, the inflammation is more extreme.
- Abscesses. These can occur when the bacteria inside the cavity spread beneath the pulp and form a pocket of pus. In some cases, a tooth abscess can go unnoticed — but most times, abscesses are extremely painful.
There’s no specific timeline for how long it takes for a cavity to develop. Tooth decay is affected by a variety of factors.
However, poor oral hygiene has the biggest effect on how quickly a cavity will develop.
Even though it’s possible to reverse the beginnings of tooth decay, maintaining good oral hygiene is still the best way to prevent a cavity from forming.
Here are some of the most important steps you can take to practice proper oral hygiene:
- Brush your teeth twice at least twice per day with a fluoride toothpaste. This will help prevent the buildup of plaque and repair any early damage done to the enamel.
- Floss your teeth once a day to prevent the buildup of plaque between the teeth. Flossing is best done at night before bed to prevent bacteria from feeding overnight.
- Increase your exposure to fluoride by doing activities such as using fluoride-containing products. In some cases, you can even ask your dentist for fluoride treatments or prescription fluoride for use at home.
- Limit your exposure to overly sugary or starchy foods. These types of foods contribute the most to tooth decay. When you do enjoy these sugary foods, make sure to give your teeth a good brush after.
- Visit the dentist at least once every 6 months for a cleaning, or more if your dentist recommends more frequent cleanings.
If you do have a cavity that needs to be filled, don’t delay treatment. Getting a cavity filled right away — even if it’s tiny — can help prevent further tooth decay down the line. In some cases, and if cavity has not been treated for a long time,It might be already too late to save the tooth and the dentist might recommend extracting the diseased tooth instead.
Types Of Fillings
There are a few types of fillings, including:
- Amalgam fillings: Amalgam is a silver mixture of different metals, such as copper, tin, and mercury. These fillings may be more appropriate for the back molars. The material is durable and lasts a long time.However their use in dentistry is declining over time due to the wide use of the new Composite(white) fillings.
- Composite fillings: The material is tooth-colored and consists of resin and glass.
- Glass ionomer fillings: The material is also tooth-colored and made of powdered glass that bonds with the teeth. These fillings release fluoride to help prevent further tooth decay.
- Gold fillings: The material is an alloy of copper, gold, and other metals. These are the most durable fillings, lasting for 20 or more years.
Resin-based composite and glass ionomer fillings are less durable than amalgam fillings. However, they are also less visible and do not contain heavy metals. One more important advantage is that they bond to tooth structure unlike Amalgam fillings making it harder for bacteria to get underneath the filling and cause a new cavity.
Cavities are considered one of the most common forms of tooth decay, and they’re perhaps one of the easiest forms to treat.
Fortunately, the beginning stages of a cavity can be reversed by taking steps toward good oral hygiene.
During early demineralization, exposure to fluoride, daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleanings can all help prevent — or even reverse — tooth decay.