Dental Health and Cavities

Cavities are what you get from tooth decay — damage to the tooth. Tooth decay can affect both the outer coating of a tooth (called enamel) and the inner layer (called dentin).

What causes decay? When foods with carbohydrates like bread, cereal, milk, soda, fruit, cake, or candy stay on your teeth. The bacteria in your mouth turn them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris, and your saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel, creating holes called cavities.

Who Gets Cavities?

Many people think only children get cavities, but changes in your mouthas you age make them an adult problem, too. As you get older, your gums pull away from your teeth. They can also pull away because of gum disease. This exposes the roots of your teeth to plaque. And if you eat a lot of sugary or high-carb foods, you’re more likely to get cavities.

Older adults sometimes get decay around the edges of fillings. Seniors often have a lot of dental work because they didn’t get fluoride or good oral care when they were kids. Over the years, these fillings can weaken teeth and break. Bacteria gather in the gaps and cause decay.

How Do I Know If I Have One?

Your dentist finds cavities during a regular dental checkup. He’ll probe your teeth, looking for soft spots, or use X-rays to check between your teeth.

If you’ve had a cavity for a while, you might get a toothache, especially after you eat or drink something sweet, hot, or cold. Sometimes you can see pits or holes in your teeth.

How Are They Treated?

Treatment depends on how bad the cavity is. Most often, the dentist removes the decayed portion of your tooth with a drill. He fills in the hole with a filling made of either silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a composite resin. These materials are safe.

Some people have raised concerns about mercury-based fillings called amalgams, but the American Dental Association, the FDA, and other public health agencies say they are safe. Allergies to fillings are rare.

Crowns are used when a tooth is so badly decayed that not much of it remains. Your dentist removes and repairs the damaged part. He fits a crown made from gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal over the rest of the tooth.

You might need a root canal if the root or pulp of your tooth is dead or injured in a way that can’t be repaired. The dentist removes the nerve, bloodvessels, and tissue along with the decayed portions of the tooth. He fills in the roots with a sealing material. You may need a crown over the filled tooth.

Teeth and Gums

Find out about conditions that can affect your teeth and gums.

Toothaches

Toothaches and jaw pain are common but can have different sources. Learn more from the experts at WebMD.

A toothache is a pain in or around a tooth that may be caused by:

  •  Tooth decay
  •  Abscessed tooth
  •  Tooth fracture
  •  A damaged filling
  •  Repetitive motions, such as chewing gum or grinding teeth
  •  Infected gums

Symptoms of a toothache may include:

  •  Tooth pain that may be sharp, throbbing, or constant. In some people, pain results only when pressure is applied to the tooth.
  •  Swelling around the tooth
  •  Fever or headache
  •  Foul-tasting drainage from the infected tooth

When Should I See a Dentist About a Toothache?

See your dentist as soon as possible about your toothache if:

  •  • You have a toothache that lasts longer than 1 or 2 days
  •  • Your toothache is severe

You have a fever, earache, or pain upon opening your mouth wide Proper identification and treatment of dental infections is important to prevent its spread to other parts of the face and skull and possibly even to the bloodstream.

What Happens When I Go to the Dentist for a Toothache?

To treat your toothache, your dentist will first obtain your medical history and conduct a physical exam. He or she will ask you questions about the pain, such as when the pain started, how severe it is, where the pain is located, what makes the pain worse, and what makes it better. Your dentist will examine your mouth, teeth, gums, jaws, tongue, throat, sinuses, ears, nose, and neck. X-rays may be taken as well as other tests, depending on what your dentist suspects is causing your toothache.

What Treatments Are Available for a Toothache?

Treatment for a toothache depends on the cause. If a cavity is causing the toothache, your dentist will fill the cavity or possibly extract the tooth, if necessary. A root canal might be needed if the cause of the toothache is determined to be an infection of the tooth’s nerve. Bacteria that have worked their way into the inner aspects of the tooth cause such an infection. An antibiotic may be prescribed if there is fever or swelling of the jaw.

How Can Toothaches Be Prevented?

Since most toothaches are the result of tooth decay, following good oral hygiene practices can prevent toothaches. Good oral hygiene practices consist of brushing regularly with a fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing once daily, rinsing once or twice a day with an antiseptic mouthwash, and seeing your dentist twice a year for professional cleaning. In addition to these practices, eat foods low in sugar and ask your dentist about sealantsand fluoride applications.