A dental cavity doesn’t happen overnight. A cavity is a process that occurs over an extended period of time. That process is called tooth decay. As unappealing as it might sound, a cavity is a result of decay. Understanding the tooth decay process can help you to prevent cavities.
The Basics of Teeth
Although it’s not a complex process, the tooth decay process is best understood when you know the basics. So here’s a quick refresher course in teeth.
Teeth are made up of enamel, dentin, pulp, nerve and blood vessels, and bone. The enamel is the exterior of the tooth. And the enamel is something to marvel over. It’s the hardest and most mineralized substance in your body. Because it’s so strong, enamel can protect your teeth from bacteria and harmful substances.
Although it does a great job at preventing your teeth from decay, it’s not invincible. Some of the foods you eat damage the enamel. Despite repairing itself with minerals in your saliva (and other sources), enamel can only overcome so much damage.
The dentin lies underneath the enamel and serves as a second line of defense against bacteria. It’s not quite as mineralized and tough as enamel, but it does provide support. When you eat or drink something hot or cold, dentin protects the nerves in your teeth from feeling the sensation.
Underneath the dentin is the pulp. Home to nerves, blood vessels, and tissues, the pulp is one part of your tooth that you don’t want to get damaged.
Stages of the Tooth Decay Process
1. Enamel Decay
The decay of the enamel is the first step of tooth decay. Certain foods can wear away the enamel. These foods include sugary foods, sugary drinks, acidic foods, sticky foods, and hard foods (like ice). The sugar is the perfect fodder for plaque, which use it to create acid. When the acid comes in contact with the enamel, they weaken it. And it’s a silent attack; you don’t feel any pain or see any damage. Sometimes, a white spot appears on your tooth. That spot indicates enamel decay.
If you can keep plaque to a minimum, you can keep the acid that they produce down. As a result, the decay process will slow down. To get rid of plaque, you can brush twice a day and floss regularly. Fluoride repairs enamel, so using a fluoride toothpaste can also halt decay.
2. Dentin Damage
Once the enamel is weakened, bacteria can spread into the dentin of your tooth. As the dentin weakens, you may have pain when eating or drinking hot, cold, sweet, or sour food.
But how can you prevent dentin decay? It all comes back to the enamel. The best way to avoid the decay of dentin is to protect your tooth’s enamel.
3. The Pulp Gets Involved
When the tooth decay process makes it to the pulp, things get painful. At this point, you may experience extreme pain, and you may see a cavity on the tooth. Bacteria can infect the pulp, and the tooth can become necrotic. If the infection spreads to other tissues, you may get an abscess.
How Can You Treat a Cavity?
For any type of cavity, you should see a dentist. In the early stages, a dentist applies fluoride to damaged spots on your tooth. The treatment may be enough to repair the damage, or you may need other treatments. Damage that’s a little more extensive but still small may require a filling. But things are different when you have a large cavity in the pulp. At this point, the tooth decay process has gone too far for any easy fix. You may need a root canal or a tooth extraction.
Preventing the Tooth Decay Process
No one wants a root canal or tooth extraction. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy ways to prevent ever needing one. If you take good care of your teeth on a daily basis, you can fight cavities before they begin. Here are some basic tips that can keep cavities at bay:
- Brush your teeth twice a day- Brushing at least twice a day after meals can prevent plaque build-up
- Use fluoride toothpaste- the fluoride can repair your enamel and prevent enamel damage from spreading
- Prevent your mouth from drying out- saliva helps repair damaged enamel
- Floss regularly- flossing can limit plaque
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks- the sugar feeds the bacteria, which create destructive acid
- Avoid overly acidic foods and drinks- the acid eats away at your enamel
- Get regular dental cleanings- this not only keeps plaque at bay but also gives your dentist a chance to look for any dental issues, like hidden cavities
- Drink tap water- the fluoride in tap water will strengthen your enamelBut if you suspect a cavity, the most important thing you can do is to see your dentist. They may be able to stop the tooth decay process before things get out of control.