October 5, 2016

What is a cavity?

What is a cavity?

A dental cavity is, in its simplest form, the breakdown of healthy tooth structure into not healthy tooth structure.

Our mouths are full of bacteria. As a result, some of these bacteria can cause tooth decay or cavities and some of these bacteria cause periodontal disease or gum disease.

How do bacteria cause cavities?

Cavity-causing bacteria thrive in an environment that is high in acid, high in sugar, high carbohydrates or a dry environment. These environments alone or in combination along with improper oral hygiene create a perfect storm for cavity-causing bacteria to destroy teeth. These cavity-causing bacteria produce an acid that breaks down teeth. A cavity will continue to breakdown a tooth until it is addressed. Fillings, crowns, root canals and extractions are used to treat cavities.

How are these environments created?

The food and drinks we consume affect our environment. In addition, the medications we take affect the environment. Furthermore, how effective we are with our brushing, floss and other hygiene habits affects our environment.

  • Acid environment: sodas, sports drinks, many juices, fruits, milk (slightly), tea, coffee, higher risk for patients with GERD or reflux
  • Sugar environment: sodas, sports drinks, many juices, candy, sweeteners, sweet tea
  • High carbohydrate environment: breads, crackers, cookies, chips, etc
  • Dry oral environment: dry mouth caused from medications or drug use, low salivary flow, higher risk in cancer patients, higher risk in geriatric patients, nerve damage in the head and neck, smoking, not drinking enough water.
  • Oral hygiene environment: Ineffective or improper brushing, flossing, mouth rinses or tongue scraping

How can one help prevent cavities?

Luckily, our patients can help limit the number and size of cavities by creating environments that help limit them:

  • Limiting acidic foods and drinks.
  • Consuming less sugar and less carbohydrates.
  • With patients with dry mouths, there are lozenges, rinses and gums to help stimulate salivary flow.
  • Drinking and swishing more water in between meals.

With the help of a dental professional:

  • Teach our patients proper brushing and flossing techniques.
  • Recommendations made for mouthrinses to help control tartar and plaque.
  • Dispense or prescribe fluoride-based products to help limit new cavities from forming.
  • More frequent recall visits for cleanings and maintenance to remove plaque and tartar

Why is fluoride good for teeth?

Fluoride in small, limited dosages is beneficial to teeth. An acid environment breaks down teeth. Hence, an acid and a base are needed in order to create balance in the oral environment. Most of the food and drinks we eat are acidic. To have our bodies in balance, we need to eat more alkaline foods, therefore the concept of the alkaline diet. Because fluoride is alkaline on the pH scale, it helps balance the damage that we do to our teeth from all those acids by remineralizing or reversing small cavities.

How are these cavities fixed?

The size of a cavity and the remaining healthy tooth structure determines treatment recommendations. Because of this, in the early stages of cavity formation, prevention is recommended. This is because the cavity is contained almost entirely in the enamel. These include fluoride treatments, better oral hygiene habits and more frequent recall visits to the dentist. As the cavity becomes of moderate size, a filling or a crown may be necessary. When the size of the cavity is large enough, the tooth may require a root canal in addition to a crown. Eventually, if the cavity becomes very large, the tooth may become nonrestorable and extracting it is the only option. The size of the cavity and appropriate recommendations for treatment can be made only with a proper examination and necessary xrays.

Time plays the biggest factor when treating cavities because people, and therefore teeth, are living longer. Smaller cavities, addressed early, have the best chance for success in the long term. Large cavities have the least chance for success in the long term. An ounce of prevention is worth of a pound of cure. This holds true for dentistry as well. All things considered, establishing a relationship with your dentist can help. Patients are educated about the conditions in their mouths and recommendations for prevention are made.

small cavity #18

Small cavity

recurrent decay amalgam

Recurrent decay around silver filling

large cavities #2 and #4

Severe decay resulting in fractured teeth
















If you would like to learn more about how to prevent or treat dental cavities or you are looking for a new dental home in Mansfield, we would love the opportunity to serve you. You can request an appointment or you can call 817-453-2983. You can use our contact form, if you have any specific questions for our team.

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