First, it’s unnoticeable. Then, a small white spot forms. Next, a hole appears. Untreated, the hole deepens and destroys everything in its path. What is it? It’s tooth decay or a dental cavity, one of the most common and destructive oral health conditions around the globe. Dr. Chris Devlin, State College dentist, explains the signs of tooth decay, restores cavities and teaches patients how to prevent them.
What Causes Cavities?
Dental decay is a pretty straightforward and predictable process. It’s caused by the oral bacteria that naturally thrive in our mouths. These germs, called Streptococcus mutans, live in the sticky plaque and hard tartar which form from the carbs and sugars we eat. On teeth, between teeth and at the gum line, this biofilm is removed by brushing, flossing and in-office cleanings with your dentist in State College. Neglect these preventive measures, and bacteria will literally eat holes in your teeth.
The Signs of Cavities
In their earliest forms, cavities are barely noticeable–even by your dentist. However, as they grow, they form small white spots on tooth surfaces. These progress to dark brown or grey spots that are actually deep pits in tooth enamel. Left alone, the hole deepens into the inner dentin and even the soft tooth pulp which contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue. At this point, infection, or abscess, often accompanies decay.
Additionally, cavities cause:
- Throbbing toothaches
- Halitosis, or bad breath
- Swelling of the gums and jaw
- Sensitivity to hot, cold and sugary foods and beverages
Treatment of Cavities
Dr. Devlin uses oral inspection, digital x-rays, and gentle probing and exploring to look for dental decay. Once confirmed, he presents treatment options to the patient. What he offers depends on the severity of the cavity. More extensive decay requires more aggressive treatment.
Restorative treatment include:
- White, or composite resin, fillings which which are metal-free, bond to tooth structure and blend seamlessly with natural color
- Custom-shaded porcelain crowns which cover remaining tooth structure after extensive decay or fractured enamel is removed
- Root canal therapy to remove diseased pulp and protect the tooth with a crown
When decay is too extensive for restorative procedures, Dr. Devlin recommends extraction and replacement with a dental implant, bridge or partial denture as required.
Even when people seem prone to dental decay, they still can take important preventive measures to preserve their tooth structure. Dr. Devlin recommends these practices:
- Eating a healthy diet. Limit processed sugars and carbs, and increase lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and fresh, fibrous fruits and vegetables.
- Drink 8 glasses of water a day to cleanse teeth and gums, provide fluoride and increase the beneficial enzymes in your saliva.
- Brush twice a day with a soft brush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss daily, too, to remove plaque.
- Get 6-month exams and cleanings with Dr. Devlin and his team.
- Take advantage of decay preventatives such as plastic sealants, fluoride treatments and even sugarless gum which contains beneficial xylitol.
Don’t Be Afraid
What you don’t know can hurt your teeth. If you even suspect a cavity, contact Dr. Devlin’s office right away for an appointment. He and his staff will get to the problem right away so you leave smiling!