The term “cavity” usually gets associated with a trip to the dentist as something you don’t want to hear as you get your check-up. So what are they exactly? How does one get them? What needs to be done if you have one? And how can you prevent them?

Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are areas of the hard surfaces of teeth that have become damaged and soft. They occur when the bacteria in our mouths take the sugars we eat and turn them into acid. Continuous exposure to this acid will cause damage to the teeth and will create cavities.

There are different reasons that people get cavities. The most common ones are eating a lot of sugary snacks, drinking too many sugary drinks, or improper oral hygiene. Eating or drinking too much sugar gives bacteria the means of producing the acid that creates cavities. Cutting out the sugar in your diet can help prevent cavities and improve your overall health. One tip includes switching from soda or sports drinks to milk or water. Eating healthier snacks such as fruits or nuts instead of candies can also help. If you choose to have a sugary drink, try and time it with your meals to allow saliva production to wash away the acid.

Good oral hygiene is another good way to prevent cavities. When you properly clean your teeth, you remove the bacteria that produce the cavity-causing acid. Unfortunately, most people have bacteria in their mouths and need to clean their mouths regularly to keep their numbers at bay. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day is highly recommended by dentists and hygienists to make sure you are removing plaque adequately every day.

When patients are told they have a cavity, the dentist may say a filling will need to be done. Fillings are a commonly recommended treatment for cavities. During a filling procedure, the dentist will get the patient numb and remove decayed areas of the tooth. Tooth decay still contains bacteria and will continue to spread decay throughout the tooth unless removed. The dentist will then replace the missing tooth structure with the filling material.

The two most known filling materials are amalgam (silver fillings) and composite (white fillings). Amalgam is a mixture of metals made of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. If you have seen or had a silver filling, it was made of amalgam. It is the oldest material used for fillings because it is strong and lasts long. Amalgam is no longer used due to the development of more aesthetic, tooth-colored materials.

Nowadays, the most common filling material is called composite. Composite is a tooth-colored material with a paste-like consistency and is hardened with ultraviolet light. It is a strong material that can last up to 15 years with good oral hygiene. The strength of this material is continually improving and has almost made silver fillings obsolete. Our practice exclusively uses composite for fillings.

It is essential to get your teeth treated if cavities are found. If tooth decay is not treated, it can continue to spread throughout the tooth and can lead to more extensive treatment being needed. If decay extends into the nerve, the tooth can get infected and start hurting. If decay spreads to heavy load-bearing areas of the tooth, the tooth can fracture. At our practice, we try to detect decay early to help our patients avoid those having those future issues.