Have you ever had a cavity? Do you have one now, and you’re tired of dealing with it? A cavity, or a hole in your tooth caused by an infection (tooth decay), can lead to serious discomfort, depending on how large it is. The size and severity of the cavity will also dictate how your dentist will treat the infection, which is necessary to save your tooth from total destruction. To help you understand how your cavity treatment will unfold, we take you on an inside look at tooth decay and the cavities that form because of it.
Tooth decay and cavity formation are progressive issues; they begin small and become more destructive as they spread through your tooth. The destruction begins with a process called acid erosion, when acid produced by the bacteria in your mouth weaken the protective layer of enamel surrounding your teeth. Poor hygiene and unhealthy eating habits can allow acid to destroy tooth enamel, rendering it useless against infectious bacteria that target the main body of your tooth, called dentin.
Enamel erosion can often be reversed with better hygiene and routine dental care, but if the dentin becomes infected, a cavity will develop. Left untreated, the infection will work its way to the nerves and blood vessels at the center of your tooth, or pulp, and eventually consume your entire tooth.
Treating cavities would probably be simpler if your teeth could repair themselves after the infection was cleaned. While self-repair may be a characteristic of some body parts, like your bones, your teeth don’t share that trait, and cavity treatment usually involves replacing infected tooth structure to repair the tooth. If the cavity is caught at your tooth’s dentin, than your dentist can clean away the infection and reinforce your tooth with a tooth-colored filling. If tooth decay surpasses the dentin and reaches the pulp, then your dentist will likely recommend root canal treatment, or an extraction if the tooth is too severely infected to be restored.