Dentist treating cavity

How Can You Tell If You Have a Cavity?

There’s nothing worse than going to the dentist for what you think is a routine visit only to find out that you have a cavity.

You were so sure that your teeth were in tip-top shape – how can you possibly have a cavity?. And if you didn’t notice that cavity, how many others have you missed and how can you detect them in the first place?

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a hole in your tooth. When you eat foods that contain sugar, it’s like a buffet for certain types of bacteria called Streptococcus Mutans. The sugar gives them energy and allows them to nestle into microscopic cracks and crevices in your teeth, leaving a trail of decay as they go.

If you allow sugars and acids to stay on your teeth for a while, the surface of your teeth will become weak and it will be easier for the bacteria to eat away at what should be the hardest surface in your body.

What causes cavities?

In most cases, you won’t know you have a cavity starting. The process of bacteria burrowing into your teeth is completely painless, so you won’t notice that you even have a cavity until your tooth breaks or your dentist finds a cavity during a checkup.

The pain you feel that urges you to go to the dentist is most often caused by something touching the inside part of the tooth. As the cavity grows, the tooth structure is weakened and it will eventually break. Once the inside part of the tooth is exposed, you may experience sensitivity to touch and hot or cold foods.

If the cavity forms near the gum line of the tooth, it may get close to – or even into – the nerve. The bacteria can then cause a deeper infection around the tooth called an abscess. Once this happens, a regular filling will not be sufficient enough to solve the problem. You may have to rely on more complicated treatment such as a root canal.

How does my dentist know if I have a cavity?

Dentists rely on x-rays of your teeth to find cavities in certain areas while they are still small. While examining the results, your dentist can usually find small cavities between your teeth which is why they recommend x-rays every 1-2 years even when you don’t have pain. While this method is typically successful, dentists can’t see everything on an x-ray because it does not give a 3D view of the tooth.

Your dentist will also feel the grooves in the teeth and the places you have fillings already to make sure they fit the tooth well. This is not a foolproof method because bacteria is much smaller than the tip of the instrument that your dentist uses.

Many dentists use magnifiers on their glasses and take digital photographs of your teeth to help them make the correct diagnosis. Some even use lasers to help find cavities when they are just starting on the outer surface of teeth so that it can be corrected before more healthy tooth is destroyed.

Regular visits to your dentist means treating cavities can be an easy and relatively inexpensive process. If you wait too long, you may have to undergo more difficult and costly procedures.

If you are looking for a dentist who can efficiently identify and treat cavities, reach out Dr. Andrea Stevens today.

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