- Oral Health
How to Tell if You Have a Cavity
Looking for Cavities
Although improvements have been made in oral care over the years, 90% of the world's population have problems with cavities at one point in their life. In fact, in May 2000, the Surgeon General published a report on oral health care in America. According to them, even though strides have been made in oral health care, there is a silent epidemic and a greater risk for oral health problems in certain populations.
Before discussing how to tell if you have a cavity, understanding tooth anatomy is important. The tooth is composed of layers. The crown is the visible part of the tooth above the gumline. Enamel is the outermost covering of the crown. The hardest substance in the body, it covers and protects the tooth from bacteria and injury. Beneath the enamel, the next layer is dentin. Dentin is a bone-like material that surrounds and protects the nerve. This layer affects the color of the tooth. It is sensitive to touch and other stimuli. It nourishes the dentin. Pulp is a soft tissue under the dentin. Composed of blood vessels and nerves, if decay attacks the pulp, pain is usually the result. Like enamel covers the visible part of the tooth, under the gumline, cementum covers the dentin of the roots. The roots are embedded in the tooth socket and held in place by the periodontal ligament.
Causes of a Cavity
Tooth decay is caused by an acidic environment and bacteria. After eating, the bacteria in dental plaque metabolize sugar and carbohydrates. The by-product of this is acid. These acid attacks happen every time you eat something sweet or starchy and lasts 20 minutes. These continual attacks over time can destroy the tooth.
There are three main types of cavity causing bacteria. These are Lactobacillus acidophillius, six species of Streptococcus, and Odontomyces viscoses. Lactobacillus acidophillius bacteria attack the pits and fissures of chewing surfaces. Streptococcus bacteria usually attack the smooth surfaces adjacent to other teeth. Unfortunately, these types of cavities are hard to detect without x-rays. Odontomyces viscoses live on the back of the tongue. Unlike the other types of bacteria, they attack cementum under the gumline. This is more common in older people or people with gum disease that have exposed cementum and tooth roots.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cavity
Unfortunately, in the beginning, a cavity may be symptom-free. However, as a cavity progresses, different signs and symptoms can alert you to the possiblity of a cavity. These signs and symptoms are:
- Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sugary food and liquid
- Bad breath
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Pain when biting down
- Pus around a tooth
- White or brown spots on the teeth
- Visible holes or pits
If you have one of these signs or symptoms, visit your dentist as soon as possible. Knowing how to tell if you have a cavity and seeking treatment early can save you money and pain. Even if you don't have any signs or symptoms of cavities, practice good oral care habits. Reduce sugary foods and liquids. Limit eating between meals. Brush and floss at least twice daily. Visit your dentist regularly. By visiting your dentist regularly, you may be able to catch the development of cavities before signs and symptoms appear. Prevention is the key to a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime.
If you do have a cavity, it doesn't necessarily mean you need a filling. Dependent on the extent of your cavity, you may be able to heal your cavity on your own. This process is called remineralization, and many dentists don't even tell their patients about it. To find out more, read Tooth Remineralization: What Your Dentist Hasn't Told You About Cavities