As one of the most common dental issues out there, it may be easy to dismiss a cavity as not serious. There is often very little sense of urgency when someone talks about dental cavities. You may hear people say, “It’s JUST a cavity” or “It’s JUST a filling.” The reality is, repairing dental cavities (caused by a disease called caries) is just as important as any other dental treatment. Perhaps more so, since you are able to catch the decay before it grows into something more.
Risks for Dental Decay
Cavities occur when the bacteria in your mouth produce acids that break down your enamel. Everyone is susceptible to tooth decay, and some activities can make your risk of developing a cavity higher than it should be. These include:
- A diet that consists of excessive amounts of sugar and acidic foods and drinks puts you at a higher risk for cavities as these create bacteria that directly erodes tooth enamel.
- A toothbrush alone only touches three surfaces of your teeth; poor flossing habits allow food to remain trapped between teeth and erode enamel.
- Irregular dental cleanings and exams mean that you aren’t getting the plaque scaled off regularly, and there may be new developments that aren’t caught by your dentist.
- Brushing too hard or the presence of gum disease can cause your gum line to recede, exposing roots that are more susceptible to decay.
- Certain medications and health conditions can also increase your chance of tooth decay.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Decay found its early stages may have no symptoms at all. When certain teeth start hurting or are sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet food and drinks, the decay has made its way through the enamel and may need more invasive treatment.
At your semiannual dental visit, your dentist will look at your most current x-rays and do a physical examination of your mouth to look for anything suspicious. Any areas of decay will be noted, and your dentist will likely recommend fillings to remove the decay and prevent it from spreading further.
What Materials Are Used?
The most common materials used for fillings include gold, amalgam, composite resin, and porcelain.
For the longest time, dentists would use “silver” fillings called amalgam. This is a mixture of mercury, silver, copper, tin, and sometimes zinc. They were used to treat back teeth because it was inexpensive, and you wouldn’t see these fillings as easily as you would on front teeth.
However, more and more people today are opting for composite resin fillings on all teeth. Old amalgam fillings can break down over time and need replacing. Resin fillings are durable and look nicer since they are the same color as your teeth. In some cases, inlays or onlays are made to order in a lab using ceramic or porcelain. They are more customized for specific areas of a tooth for a natural look and secure bond.
How is the Filling Placed?
There are five different surfaces to your tooth. Your dentist will use these surface names to determine the type of filling you will need. In most cases, cavities cover more than one surface, and more often than not, they start between the teeth where the toothbrush alone can’t reach.
1. The chewing surface (occlusal or incisal)
2. The side that faces the lips or cheek (buccal or facial)
3. The side that faces the tongue (lingual)
4. The area between the teeth facing toward the back of the mouth (distal)
5. The area between teeth and toward the front (mesial)
Your dentist will numb the area to get into the tooth and remove all of the decay. Once that is removed, they will use one of the materials mentioned to fill the area. Most often it is set it in place, or cured, using a special light.
From there, your dentist will check your bite to make sure there isn’t too much or too little filling material that will affect how your teeth fit together. You won’t be able to feel anything when they are finished, so you may need to go in for an adjustment after the anesthesia wears off.
The Importance of Early Treatment
If you don’t treat your cavity with urgency, you are going to have more issues down the road. After all, once decay starts, it doesn’t reverse itself; it only spreads. This means that your dental treatment could get more expensive.
You may end up with more than just the original tooth affected, requiring more fillings to stop the decay. The affected tooth will continue to erode, losing more and more viable structure, and eventually reaching the inner canal. It’s best to have your fillings done right away so that it saves you time, money, and helps you avoid pain.