March 11, 2016

Everything You Need to Know about Cavities: Stats, Signs & Symptoms and Successful Treatment Methods

Man With Cavity

Any list of serious dental problems includes cavities. Other conditions will invariably surface – gingivitis, teeth misalignment (which require braces), uncontrolled plaque, wisdom teeth and a few others – but cavities are the one constant. They’re the first “bad” thing about teeth we’re taught, and supposedly most people are well-educated about this common dental ailment.

Unlike most tooth disorders, cavities are fairly basic…right? They’re easy to prevent, easy to detect, and easy to fix.

That’s the common perception, anyway. But it’s not entirely true.

Dr. Dental, as one of the premier oral care networks in the northeastern United States, realizes how cavities impact children, adolescents and adults on a daily basis. We understand the disconnect between perception (cavities are rare, and even if I have a cavity, what’s the big deal?) and reality (cavities are much more commonplace than you think, and if ignored can develop into a much more serious dental problem).

When it comes to cavities, there are usually more questions than answers:

  • How do you know when you have a cavity?
  • What causes cavities, what can you do to prevent them?
  • Is your diet the primary cause of cavities, or is it all about proper dental care?
  • How often should I brush, floss or rinse with mouthwash?
  • How do you know when a cavity becomes a root canal? How much time do you have to treat a cavity before you need a root canal?
  • If you know you have a cavity, what are the best ways to fix or treat it?

This article will serve as a comprehensive resource for everything about cavities. We’ll look at some sobering cavity statistics in the United States, how and why cavities affect different age groups, how cavities impact overall health (not just oral health), typical signs and symptoms to detect cavities (how do I know if I have a cavity), actions to take that can prevent cavities, common treatment methods and more.

Cavity Statistics in the United States

According to a recent study, 1 in 5 Americans have untreated dental cavities. That sounds bad enough, but it’s even worse when you consider that the statistic doesn’t include identified cavities.

The same study showed that cavity prevalence was evenly spread across different age groups. Kids aged 5 to 11 have the same rate as all Americans, 1 in 5. Adults aged 20 to 44 have a 25% cavity rate, which suggests that kids brush their teeth more often than adults. Remember growing up, when you were constantly reminded to brush your teeth before school and before bed? It appears the extra supervision helped keep cavity rates lower. For Americans between the ages of 12 to 19, cavity rates are only about 1 in 8 (13%). One theory is that adolescent self-awareness is a catalyst for better teeth care compared to other stages of life.

Men and women are near-equal contributors to tooth decay rates in the United States. Across every age group, the split between the sexes is remarkably consistent. Men, women, kids, teenagers, all ethnic groups, every income level – tooth decay remains a monumental health challenge for all Americans.

Aside from the undetected cavity conundrum, there’s another statistic that illustrates how much cavities can create other oral health issues: over 75% of American adults have visited a dentist or oral surgeon for teeth-related issues. Healthcare experts agree that cavity formation plays in integral role in declining oral health.

What is a Cavity? What Causes Cavities? Do I Have a Cavity?

Put simply, cavities are small holes in a tooth’s enamel, its hard outer surface. These tiny defects turn into big problems down the road. At the beginning stage, a cavity is barely noticeable. At its end stage, they can cause teeth to rot, lead to root canals, contribute to gum disease and other negative oral health issues.

A common misconception about cavities is that young children and infants can’t get cavities. This is wrong. Anyone who has teeth can suffer from cavities. Just because a young person or baby can’t eat junk food like a teenager does not mean they can avoid cavities.

However, cavities are most common in young people (ages 5 to 12), teenagers and adults (ages 20 to 50).

How Cavities Form

The main catalyst for cavities is plaque. Plaque is formed when sticky substances (sugars, soft drinks, candy, etc.) combine with bacteria to produce a soft film. Sticky, sugary foods provide bacteria “food” to keep growing. If plaque keeps growing, it will eventually become hard and very tough to clean off. Once hardened, plaque becomes a gateway mechanism for cavities to form.

From there, cavities eventually take hold due to a cyclical process: the more sugars are consumed, the more acidic reactions are caused. These “acid attacks” wear down enamel enough to produce a small hole in the tooth. After the plaque has penetrated the exterior enamel, the next layer of the tooth, dentin, is quickly worn away. As the dentin is destroyed, tooth decay begins.

The destructive process of tooth decay prompts the body’s immunity response: white blood cells build around the tooth to prevent further decay, but at this point it’s too late. Puffy, swollen, white gums are an indicator of tooth decay.

Symptoms of Cavities and Tooth Decay

It’s not a question you necessarily want to hear the answer to, but, “Do I have a cavity?” is one you NEED an answer for. Besides tender gums, here are some other signs of cavities and tooth decay:

  • Noticeable discomfort when your teeth come in contact with cold or hot substances.
  • Severe sensitivity in and around your teeth
  • Trouble sleeping because of teeth pain
  • Small recesses or holes in your teeth or gums
  • Teeth stains
  • Sharp pain when biting down

Other signs and symptoms exist, but these are the most common.

How to Prevent Cavities

How To Prevent Cavities

Cavity prevention is simple, if you follow a disciplined oral care regimen. We recommend the following actions to lessen your chance of getting cavities:

Limit sugary snacks. Easier said than done, but the harmful compounds found in many sweets (high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, etc.) is the first step toward tooth decay.

Brush twice per day. Morning and nighttime brushing go a long way toward preventing cavities. Want to really keep cavities at bay? Aim for brushing thrice per day!

Use an antiseptic mouthwash. Since bacteria are essential for cavity formation, it helps to remove as much bacteria from your teeth as possible.

Get enough fluoride. Most toothpastes have extra fluoride. For even more fluoride, drink the occasional glass of tap water.

Visit your dentist regularly. This is a no-brainer, but a surprising amount of people don’t make regular appointments. If you’re in the greater New England region, we know a dental care network you’ll love.

I Have a Cavity – Now What? How Cavities are Treated

Dental fillings can treat early stage cavities. When a tooth’s enamel begins to weaken, a cavity is still small enough to be “filled in.” Dental fillings are one of the most typical cavity treatments, and Dr. Dental provides complete dental filling procedures for children, teenagers and adults.

Root canal treatment is another option. This procedure treats a cavity that has gone out of control. Once a tooth’s interior begins to rot away, the roots disintegrate. With nothing to hold the tooth in place, a root canal procedure is required. While this is a complex dental procedure, Dr. Dental’s professional staff (at all locations) can assist you with a root canal, if your cavity has gone untreated for too long.

Preventative dentistry is a combination effort, from both the patient and dentist, which can prevent cavities from developing. What’s more, preventative dentistry also eliminates the “soft” plaque (in its early stages) that can progress to hard, enamel-destroying plaque.

How do you know you have a cavity? Don’t second-guess yourself – find out for sure. Dr. Dental can help with cavities and other dental problems today. We have 40 office locations to serve you, and our affordable and flexible payment options are on the table for everyone, regardless of insurance situation. If you’re not sure how you know you have a cavity, give us a call today. You can speak directly with a Dr. Dental specialist at (877) 776-9833. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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