Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities, also called tooth decay or caries, are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks, and not cleaning your teeth well.
Cavities and tooth decay are among the world's most common health problems. They're especially common in children, teenagers, and older adults. But anyone who has teeth can get cavities, including infants. We should have special dental care for babies.
If cavities aren't treated, they get larger and affect deeper layers of your teeth. They can lead to a severe toothache, infection and tooth loss. Regular dental visits and good brushing and flossing habits are your best protection against cavities and tooth decay.
The signs and symptoms of cavities vary, depending on their extent and location. When a cavity is just beginning, you may not have any symptoms at all. As the decay gets larger, it may cause signs and symptoms such as:
You may not be aware that a cavity is forming. That's why it's important to have regular dental checkups and cleanings, even when your mouth feels fine. It is more important for kids to visit dentist regularly. However, if you experience a toothache or mouth pain, see our dentist as soon as possible.Request an Appointment
Your dentist can usually detect tooth decay by: • Asking about tooth pain and sensitivity • Examining your mouth and teeth • Probing your teeth with dental instruments to check for soft areas • Looking at dental X-rays, which can show the extent of cavities and decay Our dentist will also be able to tell you which of the three types of cavities you have — smooth surface, pit and fissure, or root.
Regular checkups can identify cavities and other dental conditions before they cause troubling symptoms and lead to more-serious problems. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing the earliest stages of tooth decay and preventing its progression. If a cavity is treated before it starts causing pain, you probably won't need extensive treatment. Treatment of cavities depends on how severe they are and your particular situation. Treatment options include: • Fluoride treatments. If your cavity just started, a fluoride treatment may help restore your tooth's enamel and can sometimes reverse a cavity in the very early stages. Professional fluoride treatments contain more fluoride than the amount found in tap water, toothpaste and mouth rinses. Fluoride treatments may be liquid, gel, foam or varnish that's brushed onto your teeth or placed in a small tray that fits over your teeth. • Fillings. Fillings, also called restorations, are the main treatment option when decay has progressed beyond the earliest stage. Fillings are made of various materials, such as tooth-colored composite resins, porcelain or dental amalgam that is a combination of several materials. • Crowns. For extensive decay or weakened teeth, you may need a crown — a custom-fitted covering that replaces your tooth's entire natural crown. Your dentist drills away all the decayed area and enough of the rest of your tooth to ensure a good fit. Crowns may be made of gold, high strength porcelain, resin, porcelain fused to metal or other materials. • Root canals. When decay reaches the inner material of your tooth (pulp), you may need a root canal. This is a treatment to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The diseased tooth pulp is removed. Medication is sometimes put into the root canal to clear any infection. Then the pulp is replaced with a filling. • Tooth extractions. Some teeth become so severely decayed that they can't be restored and must be removed. Having a tooth pulled can leave a gap that allows your other teeth to shift. If possible, consider getting a bridge or a dental implant to replace the missing tooth.
Caries. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dental-disorders/common-dental-disorders/caries. Accessed March 3, 2017. Dental caries (tooth decay). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html. Accessed March 3, 2017. Water fluoridation basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm. Accessed March 3, 2017. About dental amalgam fillings. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DentalProducts/DentalAmalgam/ucm171094.htm. Accessed March 4, 2017. Dental sealants prevent cavities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/dental-sealants/. Accessed March 3, 2017. The tooth decay process: How to reverse it and avoid a cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.