Cavities. Just the mention of the word can make you panic—and make you worry about every twinge. Do I have a cavity? What’s that twinge in my mouth? Could I have a cavity?
What are the signs of a cavity?
The good news is that not every twinge in your mouth means you have a cavity (there are other reasons for a painful tooth). A cavity forms from a combination of bacteria, food, saliva and the resulting acid. Bacteria in the mouth combine with food that sits on the teeth and creates plaque which includes acid. The acid in the plaque eats holes in your tooth (tooth decay) called cavities. If not treated, a cavity can continue to develop and negatively impact the structure of the tooth.
The bad news is that it is possible to have a cavity and have no idea. As a cavity starts to develop, there may be no overt pains or signs because the nerve is not exposed; the only way to diagnose these cavities is to keep a regular schedule of biannual dental cleanings.
As the cavity continues to eat away at the tooth, you may start to experience the signs of a cavity. Patients with cavities may experience some pain from a toothache. Sensitive teeth—especially when eating hot or cold foods—can be another sign of a cavity. Some patients also notice a hole (or indents) in their tooth or feel a pressure inside their mouth. If you think you may have a cavity, make an appointment to see your dentist. A dentist can diagnose the tooth decay, treat the problem, and make recommendations for preventing another cavity in the future.
How can I prevent getting a cavity?
There are some causes of a cavity that you can’t control, such as poor oral care as a child, a genetic predisposition, from acid reflux or a cancer treatment. Other causes of a cavity, such as frequent dry mouth or allowing sugar or food to linger, can be combated with good oral hygiene and healthy habits.
- Brush and floss regularly. Make these regular hygiene habits a part of your daily routine twice a day. In addition, brush and floss after drinking soda or consuming a lot of sugary or starchy foods.
- Add mouthwash to your routine. Purchase a mouthwash that strengthens your tooth enamel (other ways to strengthen tooth enamel listed here), loosens plaque, and removes harmful bacteria.
- Regular tooth cleanings. A professional cleaning at your dentist office can remove plaque and tartar that you may not be able to remove at home. Schedule a dental cleaning twice a year.
- Avoid soda. Scientific studies have shown a strong connection between soda consumption and tooth decay. Avoid drinking soda as much as possible. When you do drink a soda, follow it up with a glass of water, brushing, and flossing. Don’t sip the soda or go to bed without brushing your teeth so the sugar does not sit in your mouth.
- Eat a healthy diet low in sugar and starches. Sugar and starches are one of the chief causes of tooth decay. Choose your snacks and meals carefully to minimize your risk for cavities.
- Drink water. Adding water is a healthy choice, not just for your body but for your teeth. Fluoridated water strengthens your enamel, washes away small pieces of food, and helps you avoid dry mouth which can leave your teeth vulnerable to decay.