Cavities, also referred to as tooth decay, or dental caries, is the breakdown of the hard tissues of the tooth. This breakdown, or demineralization, is caused by acids produced by the bacteria found in plaque. This damage can lead to the formation of pits or holes (cavities) and will eventually require professional treatment. Your dentist can remove the decay and fill the cavity. Without treatment, tooth decay can eventually destroy a tooth.
Tooth decay however has four stages; each stage has its own set of symptoms and treatments. Stage one is when a white or brown spot on the tooth’s surface appears, brushing at this stage with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing may prevent it from becoming a cavity. In stage two the decay goes through the tooth’s hard enamel surface layer. Stage three is when the cavity has gone through the enamel to the softer layer of the tooth, it then destroys the tooth structure more quickly as the layers of tooth beneath the enamel are not as hard. If the cavity is not filled before stage four, it can cause bigger problems deeper in the tooth. This is why it’s important to see your dentist regularly. If you do have tooth decay, your dental team may talk to you about fillings, fluoride, or other treatment choices.
There are however many things that you can do to prevent cavities. Avoiding sugary foods and drinks that feed the bacteria in your mouth, using toothpaste and mouthwash that contain fluoride – fluoride strengthens tooth enamel to help prevent cavities, brushing thoroughly every day to remove plaque, flossing daily to remove plaque between teeth, talking with your dentist about any medical conditions or medications you are taking – both can cause reduced saliva flow that can lead to tooth decay because the teeth are not being naturally cleansed are all elements that can help prevent the formation of cavities. Other factors can contribute to problems with tooth decay; alcoholism, tobacco use, eating disorders – have a discussion with your dentist or physician if you have any concerns.