Cavities are one of the most widespread and undiagnosed medical problems in our nation today. Cavities are simply the condition of having decay in the tooth, and with all the modern diagnostic capabilities, it’s hard to believe that so many of us are plagued by a condition that can be easily detected and treated. As you read through the stages of a cavity, you will begin to understand why so many go undetected.
The enamel on our teeth is an extremely dense protective layer with a hardness similar to that of volcanic glass. The color should be fairly uniform with the tooth and the texture is generally smooth. As that outer shell starts to weaken, the color changes to white or yellow, indicating the tooth is becoming damaged. These unsightly spots have no sensation and they are permanent scars on the tooth. The good news is this could be kept from getting worse with the right home care and proper treatment.
If allowed to develop more, those white spots turn into divots and rough patches. The collapse of this outer shell could take weeks, months, or even years depending on several factors. These factors could be related to diet, medications and habits. Many people won’t know that the enamel is breaking down because they can eat and drink normally without any unusual symptoms.
The next layer of the tooth to become damaged is fairly spongy compared to the first. Because it is less dense, it will break down much more quickly, and at this point, a toothbrush and floss won’t be able to remove bacteria and acids. We often see a mushroom shaped hole in a dentin with a very small pinpoint opening at the enamel layer. Believe it or not, it is common again to have no pain or telltale signs that this has happened.
When bacteria travel far into the third layer of the tooth, they enter the pulp chamber, and if the tooth is alive, this is usually when pain starts. Sometimes it begins with a dull ache that comes and goes but just as often, a sudden and very life disrupting pain begins. At this point, it would be very difficult to fix the tooth without first performing a root canal to remove the infection.
When enough bacteria congregate inside the pulp and around a tooth, the colony of germs builds up pressure and destroys bone and tissue nearby. Sometimes a fluid filled “pimple” forms on the gum line. Without treatment, the infection is capable of completely destroying the bone around the affected tooth and can also travel to other parts of the body.
As you can see, the first few stages of a cavity may not provide any noticeable symptoms, so the phrase, “nothing hurts” does not equal “nothing’s wrong.” So, the best way to clear yourself of decay is by getting routine X-rays and exams based on your dentist’s recommendation and prevention plan.