What is a cavity?
Simply put, a cavity is tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when the enamel of teeth is softened and worn down. The enamel is the hard outer coating of a tooth. Erosion of the enamel occurs when acidic substances such as sugars and starches remain on the tooth for too long. The acids and the bacteria produced by them combine to eat away at your teeth. If left untreated the cavity could continue to increase in severity. After breaching the enamel, the cavity can go on to infect the dentin (the porous tissue underneath the enamel) and ultimately the pulp (the center of the tooth made up of living tissue and blood vessels). Once there is a breach in the enamel or the underlying tissues, the cavity must be restored as soon as possible by your dentist.
What does a cavity feel like?
In the early stages of tooth decay, the tooth will likely not present with any symptoms. There are no nerves in the enamel of the tooth, you will likely not feel pain until the decay at reached the underlying tissues of the tooth. As the severity of the decay increases, so will the discomfort. These symptoms include sensitivity to hot, cold, and products containing sugar. While it could be uncomfortable to even bite down on an infected tooth, discomfort can even persist in a state of rest. For more information check out Colgate's cavity article.
Cavity Filling Solutions
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Can a cavity heal?
There are many conflicting studies, articles, and blog posts about whether cavities can be healed, treated, or halted. For decades dental professionals studied and operated under the assumption that cavities cannot be healed. As health care continually develops and increases in quality, there are now new studies that suggest that cavities are indeed reversible. However, even if cavities are reversible, there is nothing that a dentist can do to “heal” them.
The potential to reverse cavities exists in nutrition and the diet we eat daily. Eliminating sugar, grains, beans, and nuts significantly reduce the acid and bacteria that cause cavities. Some people believe that eliminating such foods from your diet can even heal an already existing cavity. These claims have been examined and disputed, and regardless of whether they are true or not, a dentist cannot help you with this. A dentist is not a nutritionist. If you come to a dentist’s office with a cavity, they are not going to prescribe you a permanent nutritional plan that may or may not affect the presence of cavities.
It is also important to note that the diet required to potentially heal cavities is stringent and extreme in the sense that it removes foods from your diet entirely that you eat every day. Sugars and grains are a huge portion of the food pyramid. The best way to address a cavity that a dentist knows is proven effective is to have the cavity filled.
Can you get a cavity filled while pregnant?
Most routine dental procedures can and should be postponed until after pregnancy. However, if there is a pressing dental issue that is worrisome or causing discomfort, it may be okay to have it treated. Cavities can be treated safely during pregnancy. The amalgam filling material will not harm the developing child in any way. Make sure you let your dental health professional know if you are pregnant and ask questions about any concerns you may have regarding the procedure, anesthetics, and x-rays. It is always best to err on the side of caution. It should be noted that x-rays are safe as well.
Cavity Filling 101
Many people wonder how a cavity is filled. The process for filling a cavity is actually quite simple to explain (but not simple enough for a non-professional to perform).
- First, the dentist will do an examination which includes x-rays to confirm the cavity and its severity.
- Next, the dentist will provide a local anesthetic to numb the area surrounding the tooth so that the patient will not feel the procedure.
- Once the tooth area is numb, the cavity itself is drilled and eradicated until no tooth decay remains.
- The dentist then treats and cleans the area where the cavity existed and its surroundings. This is done to prevent any undetectable bacteria from spreading or regenerating the cavity.
- After the cleaning concludes, a dental filling is placed inside the vacancy left by the cavity. The tooth filling can be composed out of a variety of materials including amalgam (silver filling, most common), ceramic, gold, or some other composite material.
- Finally, upon having the filling installed in place, additional steps are taken to ensure the teeth filling-material hardens and remains in place such as exposing it to UV light or heating it with dry air.
For additional information on cavity fillings check out Oral-B's article.
Click and scroll to see before and after cavity filling