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Cavity: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention | Hawaii Family Dental

Cavities were first found on a clay tablet in sumerian text around 5,000 B.C.. The clay tablet contained stories about tooth decay and was titled Legend of the Worm. The story was of tooth worms who drank blood and ate away at the teeth. Similar stories were also found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. 

Greek physicians advanced the humoral theory, where interacting acids cause cavities. These acids cause the enamel to dissolve. Other Greeks like Hippocrates, Celsus, and Galen thought tooth decay originated within the tooth. 

By, 1835, the chemical theory started to gain hold. In 1882, University of Berlin professor Willoughby D. Miller published a report stating tooth decay is a two-stage, chemo-parasitic process. First, is the decalcification of the dentin and the second is the dissolution of the softened residue. In the 1930's, fluoride was linked to a reduction in cavities.

What are Cavities?

Commonly known as tooth decay, the breakdown of the tooth enamel is a consequence of bacteria's acids which causes cavities or tooth decay. The tooth enamel, which acts as the outer layer and most visible part of the enamel, is the hardest part of the body.

Aside from the enamel, a dental cavity can also destroy the layer underneath the enamel: the dentin. Along with the enamel, pulp, and cementum, dentin is a significant component of the teeth. However, the dentin is less mineralized but less brittle than the enamel compared to the enamel.

How Do Cavities Develop?

Hundreds of thousands of different bacteria inhabit our mouth, living in our teeth, gums, tongue, and other parts of our mouth in the form of colonies. Not all bacteria are bad. However, some can be harmful enough to contribute to tooth decay. Along with the bacteria, our food consumption is also a factor in developing cavities. Bacteria feed on our foods and drinks, especially those that are sugary and starchy. They then feed on the food particles left in our mouths and produce acids. These acids, in turn, attack the enamel.

Imagine being punched continuously without getting the chance to stand back. You'll undoubtedly get injured. That's what happens when the enamel gets attacked by acids before it can even repair itself. Repeated acid attacks weaken the enamel and lead to lost minerals. However, minerals will be lost when the attacks persist and the tooth decay process continues. As a result, the enamel gets destroyed — eventually forming a cavity, which permanently damages the tooth.

Fortunately, taking care of your oral health protects the enamel. You can take additional preventative care by eating the right foods, getting dental sealants and fluoride at the dental office, and going to the dentist every six months. Here's additional information on how you can avoid developing a cavity:

  • Proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least two times every day, floss after brushing, and wash away remaining food particles with mouthwash. By following these simple tips, you can stop bacteria from propagating inside your mouth and producing acids that destroy the enamel.
  • Use Fluoride: Fluoride stops tooth decay progress by replacing and preventing mineral loss and reducing the bacteria's ability to produce acid. So ensure to opt for fluoride-based toothpaste. One can receive fluoride through fluoridated water and toothpaste. If your fluoride needs are more than what water and toothpaste can give, your dentist may advise the application of fluoride gel or varnish, fluoride tablets, or mouth rinse.
  • Eat the right food for your teeth. Not all types of food are suitable for your teeth. Be wary of your food consumption. Eat less or avoid sugary and starchy food. Instead, eat foods that can stimulate saliva production, which is necessary for fighting off harmful bacteria. Certain foods such as nuts, apples, and leafy greens are healthy for your teeth. Alcohol, sticky foods, carbonated drinks, and sodas are bad for your teeth.
  • You can use sealants. Children are more susceptible to dental cavities than adults. With dental sealants, cavities can be prevented. Sealants act as barriers and seal the chewing surfaces where decay mainly occurs.
  • Avoid sharing utensils. Sharing is nice, but not always. Do not share your toothbrush because bacteria can transfer.
  • Visit the dentist at least twice a yearA routine checkup with your dentist will help prevent the worsening of a cavity through early detection. It will save your teeth, money, time, and pain.

I Have A Cavity If...

Cavities are easy to spot because of the stains on the surface of a tooth that may be brown, black, or white. Holes or pits can also be visible.

A person with a cavity can experience a toothache, tooth sensitivity, pain when biting down, or mild to sharp pain while eating or drinking.

Symptoms may differ, depending on the extent and location of the cavity. It may also not be evident in its beginning stages; that is why regular dental checkups are imperative to detect the cavity in its earlier stage, which is often not visible to the naked eye. Moreover, a routine dental checkup also provides professional teeth cleaning to effectively remove plaque or tartar build-up.

What Happens If I Get A Cavity?

Treatment depends on the severity and overall condition of the tooth:

  • Dental Filling: A dental filling procedure is the most common dental treatment for a decayed tooth. This procedure uses a restorative material to fill the space created by removing the decayed portion of the tooth. The dental filling is an amalgam, gold, porcelain, or composite resin.
  • Dental Crowns: A dental crown can save the tooth when a tooth is severely affected by decay with much damage. The dentist will remove and repair the decayed parts of the tooth and fit a crown for further protection. Crowns are porcelain fused to metal, porcelain, or gold.
  • Root Canal. If the decay has reached the tooth root or pulp and repair can no longer be an option, a root canal is needed. 

How To Prevent Cavities

Although treatments are available, prevention will always be better than cure. Here are ways to prevent dental caries:

  • Practice excellent oral hygiene. Your first line of defense against cavities will still be proper oral hygiene. Brush and floss to wash food particles away, leaving bacteria with no food to feed on.
  • Eat the right food. Food is an instrumental part of the process of tooth decay. Make sure to limit, or better yet, remove added sugar & carbonated drinks from your diet. Instead, eat foods that can stimulate saliva production, such as cheese.
  • Get sealants. Dental sealants help strengthen the teeth and provide another layer of protection.
  • Do not share your utensils. Sharing will not always be caring. One of the things you must never share utensils, as this can result in the transfer of oral bacteria which causes periodontal diseases. Aside from utensils, sharing a toothbrush is also a definite no-no.
  • Go to your dental appointment. Save your teeth as soon as possible through a routine dental check. Early signs of a cavity can be checked and treated immediately, saving your teeth from pain, money, and time.

How To Prevent Your Child Getting Cavities

Up to half of American children have had cavities before the second grade. That's a lot. It's even more alarming to note that cavities outrank asthma as the most common childhood disease. How, then, do you prevent childhood cavities?

It all starts with knowledge. Once you know how cavities occur and what conditions trigger them to form, it becomes easier to protect your children from developing them at an early age. The key here is early prevention. Your child could be at risk as soon as their teeth come in. The earlier you start your children on these measures, the more likely you are to prevent childhood cavities.

Be The Example Your Kids Need

It's no secret that children often follow the example their parents lead. This statement also applies to dental hygiene. But for babies, this takes on an entirely new meaning.

Babies don't typically have oral bacteria that eat away at the teeth (or at least not much at this point). They don't have teeth after all. But they can get oral bacteria early through their parents. When mothers especially share eating implements with their children (like spoons), they can transfer bacteria in their mouth to the child.

Parents should also have their teeth checked for any signs of tooth decay or other oral diseases to combat this. The healthier their mouths are, the less likely they will transmit the same illnesses to their children.

Aside from this, it might be best not to share implements altogether. If you use a spoon or a cup for your child, be sure to wash and sterilize them thoroughly. And if the cloth you use to clean your baby's teeth is something you also use regularly, wash it thoroughly as well.

If you also eat a tooth-friendly diet, this can also come in handy when protecting your child's teeth. For example, adding the purée of certain foods (like apples and carrots) into your child's baby cereal can give their teeth the boost they need.

Make Use Of Every Dental Opportunity

Baby teeth are typically placeholders for the adult permanent set of teeth. It's no surprise, then, that most parents would opt to delay their child's dental appointments until they're about two years old. By this time, however, your child's teeth might already have signs of tooth decay. But by taking them to their dental appointments, you can help them prevent childhood cavities as much as possible.

While they're teething, take them to a pediatric dentist for a preliminary checkup. The pediatric dentist will most likely give you a course of action based on their findings. Following these guidelines prevents further plaque buildup and nips any signs of decay in the bud.

If the child is old enough, they might even suggest a dental sealant to prevent any cavities and to protect already vulnerable areas.

As your child grows, you might want to introduce them to fluoride slowly. In addition to the sealants, fluoride will also strengthen your child's teeth against acid attacks from bacteria. Fluoride also ensures that your children are less prone to cavities by restoring the minerals lost over the day and reversing decay.

Prevention Is The Best Cure

The best way to treat a disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It's something so widely understood that this adage has so many variations. And when it comes to child tooth decay, it's something that continues to hold.  

In 2010, the AAP released A Pediatric Guide to Children's Oral Health. It contained guidelines on how to take care of one's primary teeth, especially at crucial developmental stages. Aside from providing information, the guide also encourages preventive dental measures. For example, there are guidelines for each feeding method, from breastfeeding to sippy cups in the section on feeding. One article also covers the use and benefits of fluoride varnish. Even children ages 0-3 years can get advantages from this treatment. This is particularly true for children with a compromised immune system. 

Proper oral care guidelines and fluoride varnish are great preventive measures. But another way pediatric dentists prevent dental caries in baby teeth is dental sealants. A dental sealant is a resin coating that plugs into any natural grooves or crevices in the teeth where food particles can collect. These areas are usually more prone to cavities. So covering them can lessen these incidents.

Cavity treatment depends on your child's age and severity of decay

It can seem counterintuitive to treat a tooth that'll fall out anyway. But don't write off treating cavities in baby teeth just yet. Letting the damage be could lead to more severe problems and severe pain. And it cascades down to their permanent teeth.

How do pediatric dentists treat cavities in baby teeth, you still wonder? It depends on two factors: your child's age and the severity of tooth decay. For the most part, you can fix small cavities with a dental filling. The procedure follows your typical operation: anesthesia is provided, teeth are cleaned, and the decay is drilled out and filled. The difference depends on how young your child is. Younger kids might be a little fussier and need a more potent anesthetic to make it through the operation. Older kids might be able to fare better with a local anesthetic.

If the cavity is too severe—or if the decay is too big for a filling to cover—there are two other options your child's pediatric dentist might take. One is to create a dental crown for the tooth, and the second is tooth extraction. If your child needs to undergo the latter, they might also need a space maintainer to prevent their permanent teeth from crowding in the area. 

Why Do My Children Keep Getting Cavities?

Kids, especially those who still have their baby teeth, are more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities. Why? The enamel on baby teeth isn't as strong as adult teeth. And other factors can increase the risk of tooth decay, too, like poor oral habits, pre-existing health conditions, and diet. So, if you've been asking yourself, "Why do my children keep getting cavities," read this.

#1 Lack of Healthy Foods. When it comes to nutrition and dental health, what you don't eat matters as much as what you do eat. Some foods can help fortify the teeth against the threat of tooth decay. This fortification is especially crucial for your kid's baby teeth. A lack of these foods in their diet, on the other hand, could leave their teeth further defenseless against bacterial attacks.

Another thing to consider is the frequency of what they eat. Acid is a crucial contributor to tooth decay by wearing away the tooth enamel. If your child regularly consumes acidic foods or foods that convert into acid, they're more likely to exhibit tooth decay. This risk goes up if it isn't followed up with a steady dental hygiene routine to follow it up with.

If you're wondering why your little ones keep getting cavities, then you might want to take a closer look at what they're eating. Do they like to consume sugary snacks often? Do their water and food contain enough fluoride to keep their teeth healthy? Vetting what they eat may help lessen the chances of further cavities in the future. But what if they have a sound diet?

#2 Health Conditions. Some situations make the mouth ripe for dental decay to flourish. For the most part, our mouths have their own self-cleaning mechanisms that help keep them afloat until the next toothbrush session. There are, however, some conditions that could disrupt this balance.

Having a dry mouth is one condition that disrupts this balance. This condition can come about by any number of complications. These complications can range from mouth-breathing to diabetes. If you find that your child is vulnerable to this condition, you might want to have them checked up for other problems.

In terms of oral health, however, a dry mouth limits saliva production. This salivary action helps wash away the stray sugars and food particles that makeup plaque. Without it, plaque accumulates at a much quicker rate. This accumulation makes the affected teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Any condition that makes your child more susceptible to vomiting also puts them at risk. As we mentioned before, acid can eat up the enamel and leave the teeth more vulnerable. Vomiting brings up the stomach acids into the mouth, which also wears away at the teeth. On the bright side, tending to these conditions often lessens your child's risk significantly.

6 Ways To Stop Cavities From Harming Your Child's Teeth

Dental caries are largely preventable. Yet, 42 percent of children two to 11 suffer from tooth decay or cavities in their primary teeth. Additionally, 21 percent of children six to 11 have dental caries in their permanent teeth, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

What Is More Alarming Is That 23 Percent Of These Children Have Untreated Dental Caries. The Latter Statistic Is Most Common In African American And Hispanic Children And Those Living In Lower-Income Families.

Regular dental checkups at least twice a year are necessary to prevent cavities. However, according to the American Dental Association, only 64.6 percent of children visit the Honolulu dentist every six months. Still, only 20.3 percent visit at least once a year. As well as this, 4.4 percent of children go to the dentist only once every two to three years. However, one out of 10 Hawaii children, or 10.7 percent, have not paid the dentist a visit in the last few years.

Dental visits, however, are critical as dentists can help individuals of all ages detect early signs of tooth decay.

In fact, tooth decay starts with a facultatively anaerobic, gram-positive coccus called streptococcus mutans. This bacteria strain is commonly found in the oral cavity. And unfortunately, they are a significant contributor to dental caries. These bacteria produce harmful acid which diminishes calcium in the teeth and causes the collapse of the tooth's surface, forming a cavity. The bacteria also lead to plaque buildup on teeth and erosion of the teeth' enamel.

Proper care of the teeth is critical, especially among children. Surprisingly, tooth decay is more common than asthma by five times and seven times more common than hay fever. Establishing a proper oral health routine at a young age will help in preventing the higher potential for oral health issues in adulthood.

Aside From Regular Check-Ups, These Teeth Can Help You Child Avoid Cavities:

#1 Limit the use of Baby Bottles. Only use Breast Milk or Formula!

Do not give your child a bottle of juice or other sugary beverages. The greater the exposure to sugar, the worse it will be for your child's tooth development. Sugar causes bacteria to generate acid which is harmful to the tooth enamel.

#2 Avoid Sharing Utensils

Babies are born without harmful bacteria in their mouths. That said, introducing an unhealthy amount of bacteria to your baby's oral tract at an early age via shared utensils is not safe.

#3 No Bottles while Sleeping

The longer a liquid sits in your baby's mouth, the higher the possibility of suffering from dental caries. It is best that if you give your child a bottle before bed that you gently wipe your child's gums with a wet washcloth before putting them to sleep.

#4 Switch to Cups when Possible

Because bottles sit longer in the mouth, they provide more chances for tooth decay. On the other hand, cups do quite the opposite, especially with straws.

#5 Prepare Healthy Foods (Vegetables are Great)

After all, many sources of vitamins and minerals necessary for the development of robust and healthy teeth are found in veggies. It is recommended that sugar intake is limited as well. Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet as early as childhood will be helpful in getting your child to acquire healthier eating habits.

#6 Teach and Encourage Oral HygieneBrushing Teeth and Flossing

The use of fluoride toothpaste is also a preventive measure against dental caries. However, the amount of toothpaste must not be more than what is recommended. Check the toothpaste packaging. This usually contains instructions on the proper amount for children and adults.

Primary teeth are not permanent. Nevertheless, they play a significant role in the development of permanent teeth. Not only do they play a temporary role in helping a child eat and speak, but they also help guide how the permanent teeth grow in the mouth.

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