When a cavity forms in your tooth, it’s known as “tooth decay”. That’s because your tooth actually decays, or dies, in that part of your mouth. Once that happens, you must remove it or the decay will spread. We remove your cavity at a dental appointment, and using fillings, we can help restore your tooth once more. A dental filling is a great way to stop dental decay in its tracks while keeping your natural tooth intact.
You’ve heard of cavities before, but what are they really? According to the National Institutes of Health, cavities are actually a disease. This disease is known as “tooth decay” and more than 92% of Americans have it by the time they reach adulthood. Your teeth are made up of several mineral layers. The outer, thick layer is your tooth enamel. There is an inner, slightly softer dentin layer, then the soft center of the tooth called the pulp. Cavities are essentially areas of your teeth that die because of your oral health, bacteria and what you’re eating.
Your teeth are the strongest part of your body, much more than bone. The tooth enamel layers are made up of very compact minerals. However, even the toughest things can break down over time. You have mouth bacteria that can break down tooth enamel when you eat anything with sugar. Sugar in foods and drinks mix with mouth bacteria to create a sticky, thin film called plaque.
That plaque will stick to your teeth and because it’s an acidic mixture, the acids in it will break up the hard minerals. That breakup is tooth decay, and once it’s started, the decay can spread. Because bacteria and acids are involved, tooth decay will keep spreading towards the inner layers of your tooth, killing it. This is a cavity.
Tooth decay doesn’t simply go away. Dentists have to physically remove the decayed parts of your teeth or decay will spread. That leaves your tooth with holes in it, where bacteria can fester even more with tooth nerves and blood vessels exposed. To remedy this, dentists will give their patients dental fillings after the decayed parts of a tooth have been removed. Dental fillings used to all be those silver fixes you could see in a patient’s mouth. Now, these dental fillings are made from various materials to strengthen your teeth different ways or to make your tooth look natural.
The most common dental fillings are made of composite resin. This is a cement-type material with glass particles in it (a glass ionomer) that is very strong. This material can last up to 15 years with good care. However, dental fillings can also be made with silver amalgam (mercury and silver), gold, porcelain or tooth-colored plastic. We essentially remove the decayed parts of your teeth and immediately after cleaning the area, we fill the area with the resin that best fits your mouth. Most patients want the composite resin, which is tooth-colored. We shape this resin to your tooth so it looks natural. Using a special light, we harden the material layer by layer until your tooth is rebuilt.
Not enough people are visiting the dentist as they should. In fact, studies show that only about 65% of people are seeing a dentist at all. Some years, the statistics have an even lower percentage. However, the American Dental Association and countless other health institutions recommend that every person (from infants to senior citizens) visit the dentist at least twice a year. When people don’t visit the dentists for comprehensive exams and dental cleanings, tooth decay can fester and grow. That leads to large cavities that start to cause patients pain. This is when many people will decide to finally visit a dentist.
When you get toothaches, discoloration or erosion in your teeth from a cavity, it’s likely that the cavity has grown quite large. With any pain, swelling, redness, inflammation and similar symptoms, it’s a sign of infection inside your tooth. With small cavities, fillings will restore the integrity of the tooth. With severe decay, a root canal may be needed. This procedure is an alternative to getting your tooth removed when you have severe decay that dental fillings alone can’t fix. We do a root canal when too much of your tooth structure has been damaged by decay that dental fillings wouldn’t support your natural tooth sufficiently.
More than 15 million root canals are performed each year according to the American Association of Endodontists, which is about 41,000 root canals a day. Inside your tooth you have blood vessels and nerves. When decay goes all the way from your outer tooth layer to the center of your tooth, the bacteria from decay cause cause infection and pressure on your nerves. Then you get pain. With a root canal, we completely remove all the decay from your tooth. With special root canal brushes and tools, we also remove your small tooth nerves and the infected pulp (soft tissue center of the tooth). Everything is cleaned out of the tooth, filled with composite resin, and the tooth is covered with a custom-made crown.
Want to avoid cavities and the need to get dental fillings? You can with simple habits done every day! Brush your teeth at least twice a day (or more), for 2 minutes at a time. Use ADA-approved toothpaste that helps prevent tooth decay. Floss your teeth 1-2 times a day, making sure you scrape your teeth as you go to remove plaque. Floss up into your gum line. Use mouthwash to kill mouth bacteria and fluoride treatments to strengthen your teeth as needed. As always, visit the dentist at least twice a year. It’s that easy! To schedule your appointment, call Stonebrook Family Dental at (303) 872-7907!