What Are Dental Cavities?

What Are Dental Cavities?

Overview of dental cavities

When the outer layer of the teeth, known as the enamel becomes permanently damaged and filled with holes, the condition is known as dental caries, tooth decay, or cavities. It can happen in all age groups as long as they have teeth though it is more common in small children, teenagers, and older adults.

Three kinds of cavities exist and they include:

  • Root cavities: these are situated above the roots of the teeth, just below the gum line
  • Pit and fissure cavities: these are found on the top of the teeth, on the bumpy surfaces
  • Smooth surface cavities: these appear on the sides of the teeth

Symptoms of dental cavities

A cavity may be present although undetected. The symptoms of a dental cavity usually become prominent when the cavity gets larger and also when the tooth decay is very severe.

The symptoms that may be experienced include:

  • Toothache
  • Undue sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweets
  • Pain on biting
  • Obvious holes or black stains on the teeth

Early detection of dental problems can be achieved by regular dental examination, at least twice yearly. Major tooth damage can be avoided by identifying a dental cavity before it starts causing pain. Ensure to see a dentist if you experience a toothache or mouth pain.

How do cavities form?

Cavities form when a tooth decays. It causes damage to the enamel over time. Plaque is an acid-containing sticky film coat over the teeth that is produced by bacteria, food particles. It penetrates the enamel and causes damage to the dentin, a softer layer of the teeth that get damaged more easily.

When tooth decay is left untreated, the inner surface or pulp is affected and this causes nerve damage because the pulp contains blood vessels and nerve. The resultant effect is pain, irritation, and swelling. In advanced tooth decay, the immune system attempts to fight the decay thereby leading to pus formation around the teeth, this pus contains dead cells and bacteria.

How to relieve your symptoms of dental cavities

The treatment modality depends on the extent of the severity of symptoms.

Use of fillings & crowns

During tooth filling, the decayed part of the tooth is removed with the aid of a drill and replaced with fillings which are materials such as amalgam (a metal), or composite (resin).  If the quantity of teeth being replaced is large, crowns are used. Crowns are also made from metal or porcelain. They typically encase the entire top surface of the tooth.

Tooth extraction & root canals

Tooth extraction is done when the tooth decay is beyond repair. It is removed surgically though it can be replaced with an artificial tooth.

Root canals are done by removing the damaged tooth nerve and replacing it with a filling. It is indicated if the tooth decay reaches the inside of the tooth. They are not more painful than a regular filling.


It is a naturally occurring element that has been found to strengthen the enamel. It makes the teeth able to withstand decay caused by acids and bacteria. Early signs of tooth decay are reversible by a fluoride treatment.

Prevention of dental cavities

To effectively prevent tooth decay, it is essential to maintain good oral hygiene and also pay regular visits to a dentist.

The following tips help to ensure good oral hygiene:

  • Use fluoride-containing toothpaste. Fluoride is very potent in stopping or reversing tooth decay.
  • Twice daily brushing of teeth, preferably in the morning and just before bed. Brushing after meals is also recommended.
  • Daily flossing in between the teeth to remove food particles and prevent the buildup of plaque. 
  • A regular visit to the dentist.
  • Avoid sugary foods, snacks, beverages, and carbonated drinks as they can damage the enamel.
  • Rinse the mouth with an unsweetened beverage after snacking to get rid of food particles and bacteria.

Points to note

  • Maintaining good oral hygiene is a part of being healthy.
  • Tooth decay can cause heart infections such as endocarditis as the bacteria can travel from the mouth to the bloodstream to the heart.
  • A study by the Mayo Clinic has linked oral bacteria to other diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and clogged arteries.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene and regular visit to a dentist will help to prevent tooth decay and other diseases of the gum.

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