What are cavities?
Dental caries is also known as tooth decay. Some people also call them cavities or holes in teeth. It is a very common disease caused by bacteria which normally reside in the mouth. The bacteria need sugars from food to survive, and when they break down these sugars, they produce acids. The combination of bacteria, food, acid, and saliva form a substance called plaque that sticks to the teeth. If left on the surface without brushing, the acids produced by the bacteria eat away at the teeth over time causing cavities.
Who is at risk?
Since bacteria needs time to break down food into acid, and acid needs some time to eat away at the enamel to cause cavities, anyone who does not brush their teeth well regularly is at risk.
Also, bacteria find sugary food easier to break down to acid. Therefore, people who regularly eat food that has a lot of sugar like fruit juice, sweets, cakes and biscuits, are at a higher risk.
Signs and symptoms
Signs may include white spots on the teeth. Then an early cavity appears that has a light brown colour. The color progressively becomes darker and a hole (cavitation) may appear.
Cavities are usually asymptomatic initially but after a while, as the cavity grows, it can cause sensitivity. Usually this presents as sensitivity to hot and cold or even sensitivity to sweet food.
As the cavity grows and gets deeper, pain is a usual symptom that can be spontaneous, intermittent and eventually even persistent at night when sleeping.
Caries can be diagnosed by a dentist or doctor by taking a history and examining. Sometimes an x-ray is necessary.
- Brush your child’s teeth, tongue, and gums twice a day with a fluoridated
toothpaste, or supervise them brushing their teeth.
- Floss your child’s teeth daily after age 2.
- Make sure your child eats a well-balanced diet and limit or eliminate sugary
- Consult your child’s doctor or dentist regarding the supplemental use of fluoride
and/or dental sealants to protect their teeth against bacterial acids.
- Schedule routine (every six months) dental cleanings and examinations for your child.
Specific treatment for tooth decay will be determined by your child’s dentist based on their age, overall health, and medical history, the extent of the disease, your child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies and your opinion or preference.
Treatment, in most cases, requires removing the caries and replacing the lost substance of the tooth with a filling. You can discuss with your dentist about different filling options.