Brushing and flossing twice a day every day is the best way to fight off plaque and debris that cause oral health issues like gum disease and cavities. However, if we’re being honest, we don’t always do that when life gets busy. In fact, surveys conducted by the American Dental Association have shown that less than fifty percent of adults in the U.S. floss daily.
Good oral health is important regardless of how old you are. As people age, their risk for an oral infection increases. The older teeth get, the more the protective enamel wears away, and the easier it gets for cavities to develop. At Scott Edwards DDS, we believe that our patient’s oral hygiene at home is essential when paired with their recommended teeth cleaning at our office at least twice a year.
Cavities happen to us all. In fact, about 92% of adults have had cavities filled, while close to 26% of adults have untreated cavities. Let’s take a look at this common dental issue and how to know if you have a cavity.
What is a cavity?
To put it simply, a cavity is a hole in your tooth. The most common place for cavities to occur is between your teeth. This happens to be the exact area you clean when flossing. Cavities form when bacteria inside the mouth produce acids that erode the tooth’s hard enamel surface. Over time, cavities can extend further into the softer layers of the tooth, causing pain, swelling around the affected area, an infection, or abscess, in the tooth and gums, and even loss of part or all of the tooth.
All of this can happen if you don’t seek treatment. Some patients suffering from untreated cavities experience problems eating, leading to malnutrition and weight loss. In extreme cases, an oral infection can spread to the bloodstream. This infection, called septicemia, can be potentially life-threatening without prompt and aggressive antibiotic treatment.
What are the risk factors?
Anyone with teeth is at risk for tooth decay and cavities, but there may be some factors that may increase the risk of cavities, such as:
- Incorrect or irregular brushing or flossing
- Frequently snacking on high sugar foods or sipping on high sugar beverages
- Eating foods that cling to the teeth like gummy snacks and hard candies
- Not having enough fluoride, you need more than is possibly available in your water
- Medication that causes a dry mouth, since saliva helps neutralize and wash away harmful acids
- Not visiting the dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings
Children have an increased risk of cavities due to their lack of experience with brushing their teeth efficiently on their own, combined with their propensity to consume more sugary foods. In comparison, factors that increase an adult’s risk for tooth decay and cavities include having existing dental fillings that may crack or receding gums, exposing the tooth root to plaque buildup, and eventually decay.
Some people find it more challenging to maintain their oral hygiene and access professional care. The elderly population, some racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and children from low-income families are among those who most often do not have access to appropriate dental care and have an increased risk of tooth decay and cavities. Other people with chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease are at a higher risk for oral health issues.
How do I know if I have a cavity?
The signs and symptoms of tooth decay depend on factors like the location and extent of the pain and the number of teeth affected. Small, surface cavities may not cause any symptoms to begin with, but as the cavity worsens, you may experience the following:
- White spots on the surface of the tooth indicate early tooth decay
- Brown or black spots on the surface of the tooth suggest developing tooth decay
- Visible holes or dents in the tooth enamel
- Sensitivity or toothache in a pronounced area of a tooth
- Generalized toothache or jaw pain
- Pain when eating or drinking, especially hot, cold, sugary, or sour items
- Pain when biting down or chewing food
Not all toothaches are the same. If you are concerned you may have a cavity, get in touch with our friendly team to schedule an exam with Dr. Edwards. He will look for signs of tooth decay during an oral exam and use high-quality x-ray images to see between teeth and behind any existing fillings.
How do you treat a cavity?
Expert dentist Dr. Edwards and his associates Dr. Prince use modern techniques and advanced technology to make your dental experience painless, efficient, and affordable. Our Solea dental laser allows us to do fillings often without needles and drills in a fraction of the time, making the procedure practically painless. We offer NuCalm, which is a narcotics-free sedation technique that produces a consistent relaxation effect without drugs, impairment, or intoxication of any kind.
Most cavities will only require a thorough cleaning of the space, removing decaying tooth structure, and filling in with a tooth-colored composite material. For tooth decay that is deeper or placed in a spot that would be difficult to fill, Dr. Edwards may utilize a dental crown. The cavity is still filled with packing material, but the whole tooth is covered with a tooth-colored porcelain crown.
If the decay reaches the root or pulp of the tooth to the point that it can not be repaired with just a filling or crown, you may need a root canal which consists of removing the dead or damaged nerve, blood vessels, and tissue along with the decayed portions of the tooth. This root space will be filled in with a sealing material and may sometimes require a crown.
Trust Scott Edwards, DDS
Dr. Scott Edwards and Dr. Julia Prince have forty years of experience between them. They are committed to providing the highest caliber of dental care in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for your entire family’s oral health. We treat you like you would treat you. We give you all the knowledge you need to make your best oral hygiene decisions. For any questions or more tips on helping you take care of your teeth, give us a call or schedule an appointment at our East Memphis or Midtown offices today!