Cavities (or caries) are a form of tooth decay. Bacteria in your mouth ferment carbohydrates, breaking down the enamel in your teeth. Bacteria live inside the plaque, which is why your teeth are more susceptible to decay if you have poor dental hygiene.

Cavities have no symptoms in their earliest stages. This is because cavities form beneath the surface of your teeth. As the decay progresses, you will start to have symptoms such as pain and obvious discoloration.

The best way to catch cavities is to make regular trips to the dentist. Your dentist will be able to find decay with radiographs while the cavity is still in its earliest stages. Regular cleanings can also reduce the amount of tartar and plaque on your teeth, decreasing your risk of cavities.

Cavities cannot be reversed, but their progress can sometimes be slowed or stopped with good dental hygiene. If you do not visit your dentist, you may only notice cavities when they have progressed to a more serious stage and present symptoms.

Types of Cavities

There are three main groups of cavities: coronal, root, and recurrent cavities.
Coronal cavities form in the pits of your teeth, or in between teeth—areas affected by chewing. This is the most common type of cavity.

Root cavities
can form when your gums have receded and are exposing the sensitive roots, which are not protected by hard enamel. These cavities are more common among older people.

Recurrent cavities
occur at the site of a previous filling or crown. A renovated tooth tends to accumulate plaque, making the area more vulnerable to decay.

Signs of Cavities

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with the dentist right away. Cavities do not fix themselves, and untreated tooth decay becomes worse the longer it goes untreated.

  1. Staining. Your tooth may have white, brown, or black spots. While sometimes these are just stains, cavities tend to be soft and sticky. Cavities may cause your entire tooth to discolour.
  2. Depressions in your tooth. You may be able to see holes or pits in your teeth.
  3. Toothaches. Your tooth may hurt suddenly without cause.
  4. Tooth sensitivity. You may feel sharp, sudden pain when consuming something hot, cold, sweet or acidic.
  5. Pain when biting. You might feel pain when biting down on something hard or crunchy.
  6. Bad taste or breath. When bacteria forms in the cavity in your tooth, you may develop bad breath or have a metallic taste in your mouth.
  7. Bleeding or swollen gums. Deeper cavities damage the nerve in your tooth and may cause infection. This irritates your gums, resulting in swelling or bleeding while brushing your teeth.
  8. Sensitivity to pressure. You may feel a dull or sharp pain in your tooth resulting from pressure changes, something you are likely to notice while flying. This is because air pressure changes can affect the nerve of an infected tooth.

Dangers of Untreated Cavities

An untreated cavity can go from being a minor problem to a dental emergency. Tooth decay continues to move deeper into your tooth, from the enamel to the dentin, which is a softer material full of tubules that allow acids and sugars into the nerve-filled pulp.

When tooth decay reaches the pulp, bacteria cause it to expand, pressing on nerves. If tooth pulp becomes infected, it can form an abscess, which is a pocket of pus at the root of the tooth. This infects the tooth and may even spread to your jaw.

Tooth decay can progress beyond what a filling can fix. An untreated cavity may eventually need a root canal (the removal of pulp inside the tooth) or even removal of the tooth. This is why you should see your dentist immediately when you notice symptoms of a cavity—to avoid costly and potentially invasive repairs.

Preventing Against Cavities

Cavities are the second most common health disorder among adults and the first among children. While they are common, there are some steps you can follow to decrease your risks.

Practice good dental hygiene.
Brushing twice a day and flossing once can help reduce plaque on your teeth, which is the starting point for cavities.

See your dentist regularly.
Your dentist can catch cavities before symptoms appear. Though you can’t do anything to reverse a cavity, you can slow down tooth decay by improving dental hygiene. Your dentist will also be able to remove tartar from your teeth, something you cannot do by yourself at home.

Watch what you eat.
Sticky foods or foods that are high in sugar (or carbohydrates) put a lot of wear on your teeth. This includes potato chips, hard candy, honey, sugar, dry cereal, dried fruits, cookies, cake, and soda.

Limit sugary drinks and snacks.
If you snack or sip on sweet beverages throughout the day, you constantly expose your teeth to acids that break down the enamel on your teeth. Consider replacing snacks with healthier choices and taking your coffee without sugar. Water and low-fat milk are a great way to stay hydrated without the sugar of juice or sports drinks.

If you have tooth sensitivity, you’ll experience pain when biting down on hard foods or consuming something hot, cold, sweet or acidic. Often the pain feels sudden and sharp. Tooth sensitivity can make eating and drinking a difficult and fearful task.

There are many causes of tooth sensitivity. In its essence, tooth pain occurs when a softer material called dentin transmits temperature or acidity to nerves in the pulp of your tooth.

Normally, dentin is protected by a harder layer of enamel, which may become weakened or damaged. Dentin also gets exposed when your gums have receded, as the roots of your teeth lack enamel. The reasons your teeth are sensitive may dictate which treatments are most effective for you.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Erosion of enamel on your teeth. If you have a highly acidic diet, the enamel on your teeth will erode more quickly. Bleaches used in whitening treatments also thin enamel. Usually, sensitivity caused by whitening treatments is temporary. Your dentist will probably recommend that you lay off of them for a while.

You might also wear down enamel if you grind or clench your teeth. If you grind your teeth during sleep, you should consider wearing a mouth guard at night. Finding a solution to your stress might also help the situation.
Recent dental treatments. Your teeth may become sensitive after a filling, crown, or any other restorative treatment. Sometimes, you might need a bite adjustment, but continued sensitivity could be a sign that you need a root canal. Check back with your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away after four to eight weeks.

Gum recession. Gum recession may occur due to aging, but the culprit is usually gum disease. As plaque and tartar build-up along your teeth, your gums start to recede, exposing sensitive roots. This usually results from poor dental hygiene, but it may be further exacerbated by smoking, as well as chronic illnesses and changes in hormones (often during pregnancy).
Cracked or damaged teeth. If your tooth is cracked, chewing will cause different pieces to move, exposing the pulp, which is full of nerves and blood vessels. If a crack goes untreated, the pulp may eventually become infected, which can spread to deeper tissues in your mouth, even reaching the bone underneath.

Deep cavities can also be a cause for sensitivity. Cavities do not usually cause pain, so if you have a toothache, you should see your dentist right away. Decay may have reached deeper parts of your tooth, signaling it is now approaching an infectious state.

Brushing too hard. If you’re brushing too hard, you can wear down the enamel of your teeth and cause damage to your gums. It’s best to use a soft-bristled brush. Move your brush in a circular motion, rather than moving it quickly back and forth.

Clinical Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity

If you’re experiencing a lot of pain while eating or drinking, you should speak to your dentist. Depending on the cause of the sensitivity, your dentist may advise one of the following procedures.

Gum grafts. Gum grafts can help resolve tooth sensitivity when roots are exposed by receding gums. A graft will be taken from tissue located on the roof of a patient’s mouth and then used to cover exposed roots. This treatment typically works to solve damage from severe gum disease.

Root canal. If your tooth has been damaged beyond what a filling can repair, your dentist may suggest a root canal. The dentist removes the pulp from your tooth, getting rid of nerve endings, which are no longer necessary once the tooth has grown in. While these nerves typically give you the sensation of hot and cold, they can be compromised to save the tooth.

Dental bonding. The dentist applies a special resin to your teeth to cover up sensitive areas. The process of bonding is similar to a crown but requires only one visit and minimal removal of material from the tooth. The downside to bonding is that it will stain and wear down over time, typically lasting four to eight years.

Fluoride treatments. Your dentist can apply a fluoride gel to sensitive areas of your tooth, which helps strengthen the enamel and also ease the pain. In some cases, your dentist may prescribe fluoride trays so that you can continue the treatment at home.

Treating Tooth Sensitivity at Home

Cut down on acidic foods and beverages. Carbonated drinks, wine, and citrus fruits contain a lot of acids. Limit acid in your diet to protect weakened tooth enamel.

Use desensitizing fluoridated toothpaste. Certain kinds of toothpaste can help with tooth sensitivity. Ask your dentist for a brand he or she recommends. Before you go to sleep, put a little bit of toothpaste on your exposed roots.

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don’t go too hard on the brushing. Try more gentle, circular motions when brushing your teeth.
Wear a mouth guard at night. This can keep you from grinding your teeth while you sleep.

Your third molars are called wisdom teeth because they are the last set of teeth to grow in, typically between 17 and 21 years of age. Researchers believe that wisdom teeth may have been necessary earlier in our time, when we consumed harder, uncooked foods like nuts and roots. Nowadays, they are vestigial structures, similar to the appendix.

Some people have no wisdom teeth; others have all four. Wisdom teeth don’t necessarily cause problems unless they are impacted. Impacted wisdom teeth grow at an angle that could affect the alignment of your existing teeth. They may also cause damage to your jaw or become infected after erupting only partially.

Dentists can monitor and predict the motion of your wisdom teeth through oral x-rays. However, there are some symptoms you may notice when your wisdom teeth are starting to erupt (and impact).

Types of Wisdom Teeth Impaction

There are four different types of wisdom teeth impaction. These include vertical, mesial, distal, and horizontal impaction.

  • Vertical impaction: Vertical impaction does not always require removal. The third molar is mostly vertical but maybe at a slight angle. These teeth have a high chance of erupting without any problem. Vertically impacted wisdom teeth may have to be removed if they put too much pressure on your jaw or back molars.
  • Mesial impaction: With mesial impaction, the tooth is aimed towards the front of your mouth. Wisdom teeth undergoing mesial impaction do not always need to be removed, but they may cause problems if they push on your second molar. Mesial impactions have a higher risk of becoming infected because they only partially erupt and are therefore more difficult to clean.
  • Distal impaction: Distal impaction means that your third molar is angled towards the back of your mouth. These wisdom teeth may not need to be removed unless they start to push into the bone in the back of your mouth, in which case they will be unable to erupt. Your dentist may monitor your wisdom teeth for a year or two before deciding on their removal.
  • Horizontal impaction: Horizontal impaction is perhaps the most serious case of impacted wisdom teeth. The third molar is directed towards your second molar on a horizontal plane and will not erupt to the surface. Horizontally impacted wisdom teeth can cause considerable damage to your other teeth. The procedure to remove them is more complicated and may require removing some bone.

How to Tell If Your Wisdom Teeth Are Impacted

If your wisdom teeth are impacted, you may notice some of the following symptoms.

  • Your gums may be red, painful, and swollen.
  • You may notice bleeding.
  • Your jaw may be painful and swollen.
  • It may be difficult to open and close your mouth.
  • Glands in your neck and shoulders may be swollen.
  • You may experience intense pain in the back of your mouth.
  • You might have an unpleasant taste or odor in your mouth, which is the result of bacteria that forms during impaction. The taste and odor may be caused by infection or decay in the tooth.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should contact a dentist or oral surgeon. The only way for your dentist to know for sure if your wisdom teeth are impacted is to take an X-ray of your mouth. He or she will be able to identify which direction your wisdom teeth are moving and whether or not they should be extracted.

Wisdom teeth removal is a short procedure lasting between 30 to 60 minutes. Depending on the severity of the impaction, sometimes only a local anesthetic is necessary. Otherwise, an IV sedative or general anesthesia may be necessary.

Some impactions do not need to be removed. Your dentist may also wait to see if these teeth are causing any problems before deciding to remove them.
You should monitor partially-erupted teeth closely and be careful to use proper oral hygiene. Take care to brush in the back of your mouth, where food particles can easily collect and create an infection. Partially-erupted teeth have a high risk of infection because they are difficult to clean.

Dangers of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Impacted wisdom teeth can create serious problems by damaging your jaw or other teeth. Impacted teeth underneath your gums can form cysts, which may (in rare cases) lead to tumors or cause damage to nerves in your jaw.

If your wisdom teeth push into your existing teeth, they may become misaligned, and you will need orthodontic work to straighten them.
Partially erupted teeth are susceptible to decay and gum disease, such as pericoronitis (the condition in which the gum tissue around your wisdom tooth becomes swollen and infected).

Tooth decay is also referred to as cavities and can, unfortunately, occur at any time during your life. Even though children are definitely more likely to develop cavities secondary to poor dental hygiene and eating habits, it’s important to remember that adults are just as likely to develop tooth decay or cavities. If a cavity is small, it can be repaired easily by using a special composite resin but when they are left untreated for long periods of time, cavities will slowly progress and eventually infect the whole tooth, ultimately reaching the pulp located at the center of it and thus forcing you to get a root canal. Just like with most other health conditions, it is very important to understand that prevention and oral hygiene is the key to healthy teeth and enjoying a healthy mouth every day. (more…)

Ottawa, ON area patients who are interested in maintaining the health of their smile and avoid materials that are not biocompatible with the body are welcome to work with our dentists at Parliament Hill Dental, to learn about mercury-free treatment options. Many patients choose to replace their amalgam fillings because of their appearance, which can be a wonderful way to make dental work look more natural and keep it from standing out as dental repairs when patients speak, smile, and laugh with others.

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