What are Cavities and How Are They Treated?

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Cavity. That's the word no one wants to hear at the dentist's office. A cavity develops when a tooth decays, or breaks down, causing a hole to form. This hole can grow bigger and deeper over time. Cavities are also called dental caries and if your child has a cavity, it's important to get it repaired.

What causes a cavity to develop?

Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. 

But why would your tooth develop a hole? Cavities are caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning your teeth well. Plaque, a sticky, slimy substance made up mostly of the germs that cause tooth decay, develops on teeth and causes cavities. The bacteria in your mouth make acids and when plaque clings to your teeth, the acids can eat away at the outermost layer of the tooth, called the enamel.

The acids can continue to make their way through the enamel, and the inside parts of your tooth can begin to decay. If you've ever had a toothache, it may have been because there was a cavity that reached all the way inside a tooth, where the nerve endings are. Ouch!

Does my child have a cavity?

The following are some signs and symptoms that might indicate that your child has a cavity:

  • Bad Breath: If tooth decay is ignored, bacteria will proliferate, leading to bad breath. When you start noticing bad breath and your child is brushing regularly, you should visit your dentist to check for the possibility of cavities.
  • Bad Taste: If your child complains of a chronic bad taste, get their teeth checked out as it may be a sign that a cavity needs to be addressed.
  • Tooth Pain: Tooth pain is sometimes associated with a cavity. The pain is usually evident if the cavity has been left untreated for a long period of time. You should alert your dentist if your child is experiencing a tooth ache. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Tooth Sensitivity: A sensitive tooth can mean a cavity. The tooth can be sensitive when your child drinks something hot or cold or during chewing but is fine otherwise.
  • Dark Spots: When cavities have gone for long periods of time without treatment, they are usually visible to the eye. A cavity will appear as a dark spot on the infected tooth. If you notice discoloration, you should visit your dentist right away!
  • Holes: Sometimes you can see a hole on top of the tooth. You need to schedule an appointment with your dentist right away so that the hole can be properly fixed.
  • Pus: This is the most serious symptom of a cavity and indicates an abscess. In some instances it can cause fevers, pain and even swollen glands and requires immediate attention. A dentist may want to get your child started on a round of antibiotics to help kill the bacteria causing the abscess.

If your child has any of these signs of a cavity, call our office as soon as possible. It’s also important to get regular exams and cleanings, practice good oral care habits, and reduce sugary foods and liquids. Prevention is vital to a healthy smile that will last a lifetime.

How are cavities treated?

Cavities are pitted holes or openings on the surface of the teeth and they will never go away on their own. There are some things that you can do to strengthen your teeth and help to remineralize them, but the cavity itself will still be there. When left untreated, cavities can turn into even bigger problems.

Though baby teeth - also called primary teeth - aren’t permanent, they are the only teeth your child will have for several years, until the adult teeth come in. To preserve your child’s oral health, your dentist may opt to drill out the cavities in baby teeth and fill or crown them accordingly. If there is any sign of an infection or abscess, an extraction of the baby tooth with placement of a space maintainer may be indicated. The primary teeth help the adult teeth to come in properly, so losing primary teeth before they’re ready to come out isn’t good for your child’s permanent teeth.

Is there a way to prevent cavities?

Though cavities can be repaired, try to avoid them by taking care of your teeth. Here's how:

Ryan Francois