Cavities – Tooth Decay, Causes, Prevention & Treatment in Tarzana, CA

Cavities – Tooth Decay, Causes, Prevention & Treatment in Tarzana, CA

Tooth Cavities: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

What is a Tooth Cavity?

A tooth cavity, also referred to as a dental cavity, is a hole in a tooth caused by acid-producing bacteria that destroy the tooth's structure. These bacteria thrive in the presence of sugars, producing acid that erodes tooth enamel, the tooth's outer protective layer.

If left untreated, a tooth cavity can lead to tooth decay, pain, infection, and even tooth loss. Regular oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing, along with regular dental checkups and cleanings, can effectively prevent tooth cavities.

What are the Symptoms of a Tooth Cavity?

The symptoms of a cavity can vary based on the damage's severity and decay stage. Common signs of a cavity include:

  • Tooth sensitivity: Discomfort when consuming hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods or drinks.
  • Toothache: Persistent or intermittent pain in the affected tooth.
  • Visible holes or pits in the tooth: Decay creates small holes or pits in the enamel.
  • Discoloration of the tooth: Advanced decay can cause the tooth to appear dark or brown.
  • Pain when biting or chewing: Deep decay can lead to pain while biting or chewing.

Early decay stages might not show visible symptoms; visiting a dentist is the best way to confirm cavities. At our Tarzana dental practice, we utilize DIAGNOdent, a laser-based diagnostic tool. Learn more about DIAGNOdent here.

Cavities can also develop in less noticeable areas like between teeth or on root surfaces if gums recede. Regular dental check-ups are crucial to detect these early. Consider scheduling an appointment with Life Smile Dental, an affordable dentist, if you suspect a tooth cavity.

Consequences of Untreated Tooth Cavities

Unchecked cavities can worsen, causing substantial tooth damage. Acid from bacteria continues eroding enamel and dentin, eventually reaching the tooth's pulp. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.

Pulp infection leads to inflammation, pain, and abscess formation, causing severe pain, swelling, and fever. If ignored, infection can spread, causing serious health issues. Advanced damage might necessitate tooth extraction. Timely cavity treatment prevents further harm and complications.

In advanced stages, a tooth can become so damaged that it needs to be extracted. Therefore, it is important to treat cavities as soon as they are diagnosed to prevent further damage and potential complications.

What causes a tooth cavity?

A tooth cavity, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, is caused by the accumulation of plaque on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums and contains acid-producing bacteria that can erode tooth enamel.

When plaque is not removed through regular brushing and flossing, it can harden into tartar, which can only be removed by a dentist or dental hygienist.

Sugars and starches in the foods we eat, particularly those that are sticky or high in carbohydrates, can provide fuel for the bacteria in plaque to produce acid. This acid attacks the tooth enamel, breaking down the minerals and causing small holes or cavities to form.

The severity and rate of tooth decay can also depend on other factors such as:

  • Dry Mouth (xerostomia) : Saliva helps to neutralize acid and wash away food particles, so a lack of saliva can increase the risk of cavities.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Not brushing and flossing regularly can allow plaque to build up on the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities.
  • Weak enamel: Some people have weaker enamel than others, making their teeth more susceptible to cavities.
  • Certain medical conditions: Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, can make it harder for the body to fight off infection, including tooth decay.
  • Lack of fluoride: Fluoride is a mineral that helps to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. A lack of fluoride in the diet or in the water supply can increase the risk of cavities.
  • Poor nutrition: A diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals can lead to poor oral health and an increased risk of cavities.
  • Age: Children and older adults are at a higher risk of cavities.

It’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, have a balanced diet, and visit the dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleanings to help prevent tooth cavities.

What are the treatments for cavities?

The treatment for a cavity depends on the severity of the decay and the stage of the infection. Some common treatments for cavities include:

  • Dental filling: This is the most common treatment for a cavity. A dental filling is used to fill the hole created by the decay, and it can be made from materials such as composite resin, amalgam, or gold. The dentist will remove the decayed tooth structure and will fill the hole with the chosen material to restore the tooth to its normal shape and function.
  • Dental crown: If a cavity is large and has caused significant damage to the tooth, a dental crown may be necessary to cover the entire tooth and protect it from further decay. A dental crown is a custom-made cap that fits over the remaining tooth structure and is typically made of porcelain, gold, or a combination of both.
  • Root canal treatment: If the cavity has progressed to the point where it has reached the pulp of the tooth and infected it, a root canal treatment may be necessary. This procedure involves removing the infected pulp, cleaning and disinfecting the canals inside the tooth, and then filling them with a sealer. The tooth is then usually restored with a crown.
  • Extractions: In some cases, the tooth may be so severely damaged that it cannot be saved and must be extracted. Your dentist may recommend extraction as a treatment option.

It’s important to note that these treatments are not interchangeable and the best option for you will depend on the specific case and the stage of decay. Your dentist will evaluate your oral health and will recommend the best treatment plan for you.

When to see a dentist?

It’s recommended to see a dentist at least twice a year for regular check-ups and cleanings, even if you don’t have any symptoms of a cavity. This will allow your dentist to detect and treat any issues in the early stages before they become more serious.

If you do have symptoms of a cavity, such as a tooth sensitivity, toothache, or visible holes or discoloration in a tooth, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. The sooner a cavity is detected and treated, the less damage it will cause and the easier it will be to repair.

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If you have a severe toothache, swelling, or fever, it’s important to seek emergency dental care as these symptoms can indicate a more serious infection or abscess which need prompt treatment to prevent further damage or complications.

Overall, it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene practices and to see a dentist regularly to prevent and detect cavities in a timely manner.

What to expect from your dentist?

During a regular check-up, your dentist from Life Smile Dental will examine your teeth, gums, and mouth for any signs of cavities, gum disease, or other oral health issues. They will also check for any signs of oral cancer.

If cavities are found, your dentist will recommend a treatment plan. Depending on the stage of decay, the treatment may involve a simple filling or a more complex procedure such as a root canal or a crown.

If you need a filling, your dentist will numb the area around the affected tooth, remove the decayed tooth structure, and then fill the hole with the chosen material. The filling will be shaped and polished to match the surrounding tooth structure.

If you need a crown, the dentist will prepare the tooth by removing any decay and shaping the remaining tooth structure. An impression of the prepared tooth will be taken and sent to a dental laboratory where the crown will be made. A temporary crown will be placed while the permanent crown is being made. At the next visit, the permanent crown will be checked for fit, color and bite, and then it will be cemented in place.

For a root canal treatment, the dentist will numb the area around the affected tooth, and make an opening through the top of the tooth. The infected pulp will be removed, the canals will be cleaned and disinfected, and then filled with a sealer. The tooth will then be restored with a filling or a crown.

It’s important to communicate any concerns or questions you may have with your dentist before, during, and after the procedure, to ensure the best experience possible.

Also, it’s important to follow the post-treatment instructions provided by your dentist to ensure proper healing and prevent any complications.

What you can do to prevent tooth cavities

There are several things you can do to help prevent cavities and maintain good oral health:

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss once a day to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth.
  2. Limit your intake of sugary and starchy foods, as these can contribute to tooth decay.
  3. Use an antiseptic mouthwash to kill bacteria and freshen your breath.
  4. Chew sugar-free gum after meals, as this can help increase saliva flow and neutralize acid in the mouth.
  5. Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption as these can increase your risk of developing cavities and other oral health problems.
  6. If you have tooth sensitivity or pain, avoid hot and cold foods, and use a desensitizing toothpaste.
  7. If you have a toothache, rinse your mouth with warm water and gently floss to remove any food particles that may be stuck between your teeth.
  8. If you have swelling, fever or severe pain, seek emergency dental care as these symptoms can indicate a more serious infection or abscess which need prompt treatment to prevent further damage or complications.

Remember that good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups are the best ways to prevent cavities and maintain good oral health.

Life Smile Dental provides personalized dental care in Tarzana. Life Smile Dental and staff practice a full scope of general and cosmetic dentistry with expertise ranging from dental implants to porcelain veneers, dentures, crowns and bridges.

We understand how intimidating it can be to visit the dentist, thus we strive to make you feel as comfortable as possible during any exam or procedure. Book your next appointment with an affordable dentist in Tarzana here.


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