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

A Sumerian text on a clay tablet from around 5,000 B.C. is the first known description of cavities. Referred to as the Legend of the Worm, the clay tablet contained stories about how tooth decay started. The tablet theorized tooth worms drank blood and ate away at the teeth. The story found its way into other stories in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. Greek poet Homer and French physician and surgeon Guy de Chauliac also promoted the belief, which lasted until the 19th century.

Various theories started to emerge regarding the causes of tooth decay. Greek physicians advocated the humoral theory, which proposed that dental caries are produced by acids interacting. The imbalance of specific interactions resulted in different diseases. Other Greek physicians like Hippocrates, Celsus, Galen, and Avicenna thought tooth decay originated within the tooth. 

1835 saw the rise of the chemical theory, which stated that tooth decay was due to acid formation by the fermentation of food particles around the teeth. By 1843, Erdl suggested microorganisms were related to dental caries. In 1880, Underwood and Milles reported bacteria feeding on the dentin's organic fibrils created acid capable of causing decalcification.

In 1882, University of Berlin professor Willoughby D. Miller published an extensive result of his studies, which began i. According to him, tooth decay is a chemo-parasitic process consisting of two stages. This includes the decalcification of the dentin and the dissolution of the softened residue. The current theory echoes some aspects of previous postulates, such as acids' role in the process.

What are Cavities?

Commonly known as tooth decay, the tooth enamel's breakdown characterizes a dental cavity because of bacteria's acids. The tooth enamel, which acts as the outer layer and most visible part of the enamel, is the hardest and the most highly mineralized portion 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, the dentin is a significant component of the teeth. However, compared to the enamel, the dentin is less mineralized but less brittle than the enamel.

How Do Cavities Develop?

Hundreds of different bacteria inhabit our mouth, living in our teeth, gums, tongue, and other parts of our mouth. Not all bacteria are bad. However, some can be harmful enough to contribute to the tooth decay process. Along with the bacteria, our food consumption is also a factor in the development of 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 indicated by white spots; however, it can still be reversed. However, when the attacks persist and the tooth decay process continues, minerals will be lost. As a result, the enamel gets destroyed — eventually forming a cavity, which is permanent damage to the tooth.

Fortunately, the enamel and the rest of your mouth can be protected against bacteria attacks through proper hygiene. Additionally, you can protect your teeth via the use of fluoride, eating the right foods, the use of dental sealants, not sharing brushes, and visiting the dentist. Here's 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. 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. 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.
  • You can use sealants. Children are more susceptible to dental cavities than adults. With dental sealants, cavities can be prevented from affecting the teeth. Sealants act as barriers and seal the chewing surfaces where decay mostly occurs.
  • Avoid sharing utensils. Sharing is nice, but not always. This is especially true when it comes to personal hygiene. Do not share your toothbrush with anyone because it can lead to bacteria 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.

How do I know if I have a cavity?

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

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 are the treatments for cavities?

Treatment will rest on the condition of your teeth and the degree of damage needed to be repaired.

  • Dental Filling: The most common dental treatment for a decayed tooth is a dental filling procedure. This procedure uses a restorative material to fill the space created by removing the decayed portion of the tooth. The dental filling is amalgam, gold, porcelain, or composite resin.
  • Dental Crowns: When a tooth is severely affected by decay with much damage, a dental crown can save the tooth. The dentist will remove and repair the decayed parts of the tooth and will 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 do I prevent getting 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 on your diet. Instead, eat foods that can stimulate saliva production, such as cheese.
  • Avail 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. 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.


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