If you recently noticed you have mild tooth pain or sensitivity when you eat or drink, it may be a sign that you have a cavity. A cavity is a permanently damaged area in the hard surface of the tooth that can develop into a tiny hole exposing the inside of the tooth. Common causes of cavities include a combination of factors, such as bacteria in the mouth, frequent snacking, drinking sugary drinks and not adequately cleaning the teeth. Cavities may not seem bad, but if left treated, they can get larger and potentially cause more severe damage including infection and tooth loss.
How to Diagnose a Cavity
A dentist can usually identify a cavity by:
- Symptoms of tooth pain and sensitivity
- A comprehensive exam, including probing the teeth to check for soft areas
- Dental X-rays to identify the extent of the damage caused by the cavity
How to Fix Cavities
One of the biggest reasons to maintain regular dental checkups is to identify cavities before they lead to more-serious problems. If a cavity is identified and treated before it starts causing pain, you likely won’t need intensive dental treatments. However, a more severely damaged tooth may need a more intensive treatment. In general, the dental treatment used to fix a cavity depends on how severe the cavity is when the dentist identifies it. Common treatment options include:
- Fluoride treatments. A cavity that has just started may just need a fluoride treatment to help restore the tooth's enamel and reverse the cavity. Fluoride treatments may be liquid, gel, foam or varnish that is applied to the teeth or placed in a tray that fits over the teeth.
- Fillings. Fillings are the most common treatment option when a cavity has progressed beyond the earliest stage. Whether made of tooth-colored composite resins, porcelain or dental amalgam, filling putty is applied to the teeth and hardened to protect the outer layer of the tooth.
- Crowns. For a more extensive cavity, a crown may be needed. A crown is a custom-fitted cap designed to cover the entire tooth.
- Root canals. When decay has reached the inner part of the tooth, a root canal treatment may be needed. During the treatment the diseased tooth center is removed to save the infected tooth instead of removing it.
- Tooth extractions. When a cavity allows the inside of the tooth to become so badly damaged that it cannot be restored it must be removed. A tooth extraction will remove the tooth and prevent the infection from spreading to the bone.
If you've noticed pain or sensitivity in your teeth, you should make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. In the meantime, while you're waiting for your appointment, there are a few things you can do to control your tooth pain. You can take an over-the-counter pain reliever or anesthetic to help with the pain. When brushing your teeth, you can use warm water or special toothpaste to reduce the tooth’s sensitivity. You should also make sure to continue to brush and floss daily to thoroughly clean all parts of your mouth and teeth.
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