What is a Cavity, Exactly?

You may hear a lot of talk about cavities, especially when you visit your dentist. As the most common chronic disease among children and adults alike, cavities are familiar even to many patients who’ve never had one. If you’ve already suffered a cavity in one of your permanent teeth, you can protect your other teeth by understanding how to prevent future cavities from forming.

A Spreading Concern

Tooth decay describes a bacterial infection that eats away at your tooth’s structure. A cavity is a hole that forms in the tooth as decay progresses, and if left alone, it can consume your entire tooth. Before germs can destroy your tooth, however, they have to bypass your teeth’s protective layer, called tooth enamel. As living organisms, the oral bacteria consume nutrients and metabolize them. Some mouth germs consume sugar and starches, then metabolize them into acid that destroys the surrounding layer of tooth enamel.

How Teeth Protect Themselves

Tooth enamel is more resilient than any other substance on earth, besides diamonds, but it’s made almost entirely of minerals and requires a steady supply of them to remain strong. When acids attack your teeth, they weaken enamel while simultaneously sapping your teeth of the minerals they need to maintain enamel’s integrity. Every time you eat, your enamel can be subjected to bacterial acid, which dissipates after about 20-30 minutes. If acid bathes your teeth too often, enamel can dissolve and expose your teeth to infection.

Treating Cavities

Most cavities are detected at the tooth’s dentin, or the main structure directly underneath enamel, and can be treated by cleaning the cavity and restoring it with a dental filling. For severe cavities that have infected the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels, Dr. Van Wicklen may recommend a root canal procedure to stop the spread of infection to surrounding bone and gum tissue. In extreme cases, the tooth may require an extraction. To prevent any harm to your tooth and the need for a restoration, Dr. Van Wicklen recommends preventing cavities from forming by brushing and flossing your teeth at twice every day, limiting the amount of times you snack throughout the day, and attending a dental checkup and cleaning at least once every six months.

About Your Austin Dentist:

Since 1985, Dr. Steven Van Wicklen has been providing expert general and restorative dentistry services to patients and families in Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Bastrop, Bee Cave, Cedar Park, and all surrounding communities. To schedule your next dental consultation, call our office today at (512) 448-3131.