What is a cavity?

Brian Maurer
May 6, 2021
Oral Health and Lifestyle Advice
minute read

Dental cavities are one of the most common diseases that affect people in the US. In fact, the only disease that is more prevalent is the common cold.

According to the National Health and nutrition examination survey, 92% of adults 20-64 have cavities. The rate of cavities in adults has declined since the 1970s, probably due to more dental education and access to proper dental care.

However, cavities are still a big problem. The good news is that when caught early, cavities are simple to treat and will not drastically affect your overall oral health. The key phrase in that sentence, however, is "when caught early." If you allow cavities to flourish, you can experience significant damage, dental disease, and even tooth loss.

That's why it's essential to be vigilant in the fight against tooth decay.

Statistically speaking, you've probably already had at least one cavity. But do you actually know what a cavity is or how to spot one? No? Then this article is for you. Let's explore!

What Is a Cavity?

We all have a substance called plaque that is constantly forming on our teeth. This sticky substance is home to some of the bacteria that live in your mouth. This bacteria thrives on sugar, so whenever you eat or drink anything with sugar, the bacteria have a heyday.

Like all life forms, the bacteria chowing down produces waste in the form of acids that attack your tooth enamel. The sticky plaque holds the bacteria on your teeth, facilitating the destruction of your tooth enamel.

That is unless you brush your teeth twice a day like your dentist tells you to. This will remove the plaque and not allow the bacteria and its byproducts to build up enough to cause damage.

There are also counteractions at work in your mouth, building up and reinforcing your tooth enamel. Fluoride is a mineral that helps with this, and that's why many dentists recommend using fluoridated toothpaste.

However, if the destruction is allowed to go on, eventually, you'll get a hole in your tooth — known as a cavity.

What Does a Cavity Look Like?

The start of a cavity will often appear as little white spots on your teeth. This is a result of demineralization as the acids in the bacteria are slowly chipping away your enamel.

Usually, at this stage, all that is needed is to step up your dental care routine. If you don't already, try using a fluoridated toothpaste to help with the remineralization of your enamel.

As the cavity worsens, the spots can turn brown or black. If the cavity is allowed to flourish, eventually, you will have a visible hole in your tooth. At this point, you'll usually need dental intervention to stop the decay. Your dentist will also fill the hole with something like amalgam (silver fillings) or tooth-colored composite fillings that are far less noticeable.

The filling prevents bacteria from hanging out in the hole and helps to fortify the tooth a little. Severely decayed teeth will generally require a crown, a protective cap that fits over what is left of the tooth.

What Does a Cavity Feel Like?

At first, it's unlikely that you'll feel anything. After all, tooth enamel doesn't have nerve endings.

However, as the decay works its way down through the layers of your teeth, you may start to notice that something is wrong. Common symptoms include:

●     A toothache or pain when biting and chewing

●     Sensitivity to hot and cold or sweet food and drink

●     Bad breath

●     A bad taste in your mouth

●     Being able to feel a hole in your tooth with your tongue

Unfortunately, when you start to feel a cavity, things are already starting to get serious. This is why it's essential to be vigilant even if you don't have any toothaches or other symptoms.

How to Know If You Have a Cavity?

Cavities often form in places where your teeth are touching one another. It is harder to clean out tiny crevices to get out all the plaque that harbors the bacteria in your mouth. This is one of the reasons why even those who follow a strict dental health care routine can still be at risk of developing cavities.

Because of the cavity's propensity for developing in shadowy places, it's virtually impossible to see your own cavities looking in a mirror. That is why regular dental visits are such an important part of your healthcare routine.

Visit the Dentist

With their big light and those little mirror things, your dentist can carefully check your teeth for signs of cavities appearing. Dental x-rays help them find cavities in hard-to-see areas. The teeth show up white on the x-ray, and cavities will appear as a darker spot.

Send a Sample to Bristle

At any given moment, you have trillions of little microbes living in your mouth. Think about that the next time you want to kiss somebody!

Just like gut flora, these microbes can be either good or bad. You will generally always have a balance of both good and bad bacteria in your mouth.

When a cavity takes root, the bacteria will become imbalanced. Since the harmful bacteria is flourishing, it will become stronger, and you'll have a higher presence of bad bacteria in your mouth.

Keeping this in mind, you can send a small sample of saliva to us here at Bristle for testing. We'll examine your microbiome (the bacteria ecosystem in your mouth). Then, we'll provide science-based feedback based on what we find.

Though perhaps less conventional than what you're used to, testing your microbiome is better than visiting a dentist in some cases. A dentist can only see a cavity after it has already begun to cause damage. However, we can analyze and provide feedback on your microbiome when the bacteria level begins to rise in your mouth — before it has time to cause too much damage.

Smile, It's Time to be Healthy

The mouth is the gateway to your entire body. Maintaining a healthy mouth is about more than simply having a nice smile. It also helps prevent systemic diseases like heart disease and stroke.

Keeping up on your oral health is as important as always. However, not everyone feels comfortable with going to the dentist during these unusual times. Don't let your oral health suffer. All you have to do is send us a sample, and we'll do the rest. We can't fix major problems, but we can alleviate your concerns and advise you when it becomes necessary to see a dental professional.

Try it today!

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