Cavities: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Cavities - Willow Pass Dental Care - Concord, CA


Being diagnosed with cavities is the worst possible outcome of a routine dental examination, whether young or old. Not only does it mean that your teeth may be damaged or rotten, but it also means that some potentially uncomfortable dental procedures, such as a dental extraction or root canal, may be just around the corner.

Even worse, until recently, patients diagnosed with cavities often had to deal with the embarrassment of being told that they didn’t practice proper dental hygiene or ate too much candy.

While in many cases, cavities are indeed the result of poor lifestyle choices, more and more research is beginning to shed light on the fact that, for some, cavities are merely a result of unlucky genetics.

How To Get Rid of Cavities

What Are Cavities?

Cavities, also known as dental caries, are quite simply a penetration of a tooth’s dental enamel due to the action of acid-spewing bacteria. Thanks to certain oral microbes which feed on sugar and produce acid as a byproduct, tiny holes can form on a tooth’s surface. Over time these holes in the enamel can deepen and widen, eventually leading to damage of underlying dentin and, if left untreated, infection of a tooth’s sensitive pulp.

Typically, mild tooth decay that has not penetrated the enamel can be reversed with a rigorous and routine brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste. However, once the acid has penetrated through to the dentin, or worse, bacteria have made their way to the tooth’s inner pulp, more extreme measures may be required to save the tooth.

Common Symptoms of Cavities

For many people, cavities don’t become apparent until they feel pain. Unfortunately, by this point, it is often too late as pain indicates that a tooth’s nerves, and therefore the inner pulp, has been compromised.

However, there are plenty of other signs, and symptoms patients should be aware of to help them identify a cavity before it is too late.

Common symptoms of cavities are toothache, dental sensitivity, and tooth pain without any apparent cause. Visual clues that it’s time to see a dentist may include white, brown, or black staining and visible pits or holes. Sometimes, when dental decay is severe, a foul odor may even be detectable.

Dental Caries Process

What Should You Know About Cavities?

Cavities are reversible up to a certain point. This is because dental enamel can naturally repair and remineralize itself over time. However, once a cavity has damaged dentin or enters the soft center of the inner tooth, it may be too late.

That’s why prevention and early detection are key. Knowing how to prevent and detect cavities can mean the difference between a costly dental procedure and a happy, healthy smile.

Illustration of the inside of a tooth

I brush and floss my teeth every day. Why am I still getting cavities?

For many, genetics play a key role in determining their oral health. However, some people are more prone to developing cavities due to their natural oral microbiomes or any number of other factors out of their control. However, while genetics may either increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing dental caries, ultimately, each individual’s dental hygiene habits and dietary choices will determine whether they are prone to get cavities or not.

How do I prevent cavities?

The best way to prevent cavities is to attack them at their source. That means either directly eliminating harmful oral microbes through brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash, or, starving bacteria of their fuel by eating less sugar. Traditionally, dentists have placed great emphasis on attacking bacteria directly. More and more dental professionals are beginning to take a more holistic view in which diet and hygiene both play complementary roles in preventing cavities. Another essential aspect of cavity prevention is merely visiting Willow Pass Dental Care regularly for routine checkups and dental examinations. A dental checkup will allow our team to quickly determine with high accuracy whether you have a cavity or not and what to do if you are diagnosed with dental caries. More importantly, dental checkups are critical for catching and treating problems, such as early-stage dental decay, before they become irreversible.

I have one or more cavities. Now what?

The first step is to take a deep breath and relax. Unfortunately, most people will get a cavity at some point in their lives. Even people with impeccable oral hygiene habits may one day find themselves faced with the prospect of receiving a filling or possibly a root canal or tooth extraction. If you suspect that you may have cavities, schedule an appointment at Willow Pass Dental Care. The sooner you can get treatment, the better. If one of our dentists confirms that you do, indeed, have a cavity, it’s time to discuss a treatment plan to eradicate dental caries.

Cavity treatments

Cavity treatments will depend on the severity of a patient’s cavity. For mild cavities, a filling is typically employed.

This process entails drilling out the decayed part of the tooth and filling in the empty void with some dental material, either amalgam or another filling substance.

However, a root canal may be necessary when dental decay has reached a tooth’s roots. Also known as endodontic therapy, a root canal involves completely removing and cleaning the inner tooth, including the pulp, to save the tooth.

When a tooth is beyond rescue, we will recommend a complete dental extraction. The diseased tooth is removed and usually replaced with either a dental implant or another dental prosthetic. The good news is there are plenty of solutions.