Frequently Asked Questions
We want to answer any questions you might have about your oral care or upcoming dental visit. Listed below are our most common questions about cavities. Please feel free to call our office with any additional questions not listed here.
- Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Also known as tooth decay or caries, cavities are caused by a combination of factors, including your oral hygiene, diet, and the bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugary or starchy foods or drinks, and then convert these carbohydrates into acids. The bacteria, acids, food and saliva mix to form a substance known as plaque. If not regularly removed from the teeth, plaque will erode tooth enamel and cause cavities.
- Smooth surface: This slow-growing cavity dissolves tooth enamel and commonly occurs between adjacent teeth (known as interproximal caries).
- Pit and fissure decay: Cavities form on the top part of the tooth’s chewing surface in deep grooves and pits. Decay also can affect the front side of back teeth. Pit and fissure decay tends to start during the teenage years and progresses quickly.
- Root decay: Older adults who have receding gums are more prone to root decay. Gum recession exposes the tooth’s root to plaque and acid. These cavities can be difficult to prevent and treat
- Diet high in surgery or starchy foods and drinks, such as chips, candy, or soda
- Poor oral hygiene
- Family history
- Certain medications, including antidepressants
- Dry mouth
- Receding gums
- Previous radiation therapy to treat head and neck cancers
- Regular dental check-ups and cleanings
- Good home care, including regular daily brushing and flossing
- Limiting quantity and frequency of surgery or starchy foods and drinks
- Very often, cavities are asymptomatic until they progress through the enamel layer into the underlying layer of dentin. Once this occurs, the cavity begins to progress more quickly and can cause sensitivity.
- Early signs of a cavity cause a sensitivity to sweets or cold.
- As the cavity gets larger and gets closer to the nerve of the tooth, you may notice a sensitivity to hot foods and drinks or pain when biting or chewing. The sensitivity may linger after the stimulus is gone.
- Once the cavity progresses to the point that it has infected the nerve of the tooth, you may experience:
- Severe aching or throbbing pain
- Random pain, that may awake you at night
- Pain when biting or chewing
- Swelling of the mouth or face
- Bleeding gums
- Flouride treatments can repair tooth enamel through a process called remineralization if caught in the very early stages when the cavity is still confined to the enamel layer.
- You may need prescription toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as fluoride treatments at the dental office.
- Once a hole forms in the tooth, the decayed tooth structure must be removed and replaced with a composite filling, inlay, onlay or crown.
- If the cavity has progressed to the point that it has infected the nerve of the tooth, a root canal is necessary to prevent further pain and infection. The cavity, as well as the infected nerve tissue is removed, the canals of the tooth are disinfected and sealed, and a crown is placed to protect the tooth.
- If a root canal isn’t possible or the cavity has progressed to the point that the tooth cannot be repaired, the tooth may need to be extracted. The missing tooth can then be replaced with an implant, fixed bridge, or removable partial.