The terms “filling,” “cavity,” & dental decay are sometimes confused and are used interchangeably. To protect your teeth, it is important to understand what cavities are, how they form, how they spread, and how they are fixed. Of course, the most effective way to prevent cavities from spreading and getting worse is to see your dentist periodically. If decay is only given 6 months to grow unchecked, it is difficult for it to progress without being addressed.
What Is A Dental Cavity?
Let’s discuss the terms above. A cavity is simply a name for a type of dental decay, and it is defined by how/where the decay is on the tooth. Like any part of the body, your tooth has anatomy and various parts. The outermost layer of our teeth is called the enamel. Decay happens when bacteria mix with sugar in the food/beverages we consume. The bacteria begins a process called demineralization where the tooth enamel is broken down. This creates indents in your teeth. Under the enamel is the dentin. When the dentin starts to break down, it is officially a “cavity”. Left untreated, the decay will spread to the tooth pulp & eventually the tooth root. When decay hits the root this can cause severe toothaches, a tooth to simply fall out, or abscesses and infection. Many years ago, if decay was in the tooth root the only option was tooth extraction. Nowadays, a process called a root canal can be done to save the tooth and remove the decay.
The Three Types Of Cavities
- Pit/Fissure Cavities: Many of your teeth have natural indents in them. For example, your back molars. These indents make it easy for food & bacteria to stick to your teeth. A pit/fissure cavity is a cavity that forms in one of the naturally existing indents. In fact, pit/fissure cavities are one of the ways your own genetics can play a role in your likelihood to develop cavities. Different tooth geometry can make it more difficult to brush/floss effectively.
- Smooth Surface Cavities: Cavities that form on the smooth surfaces of a tooth are called smooth surface cavities. This often happens on the fronts and sides of a tooth. One of the most common smooth surface cavities is a cavity that forms between two teeth. This cavity is especially dangerous because not only will it grow into the tooth but it can also affect the adjacent tooth.
- Root Cavities: It is possible for a cavity to form underneath right near the gums and therefore closer to the root. A cavity that is already close to the root can quickly spread into the root.
How Do Cavities Become Root Canals?
This is a squares and rectangles sort of situation. While the easy answer is any cavity left untreated will get worse and potentially cause the need for a root canal, it is not as clear cut as that. As mentioned above, there are different types of cavities. A cavity that starts right at the gum line can turn into a root infection much quicker than a cavity that forms on the chewing surface of a tooth. Regardless, the easy answer to all of this is as follows, you want to have tooth decay caught before it becomes a cavity and you want cavities to be caught before they become root issues. The easiest way to do that is to not skip a check-in. Preventative dental care is so much nicer than needing fillings, root canals, tooth extraction, dental crowns, etc. That said, sometimes it is difficult to avoid needing one of those procedures. While we can control how often we go to the dentist, how we take care of our teeth, and what we eat, what we are controlling are risk factors. You can greatly decrease the risk of a problem, but that risk is never going to be zero.
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