Everyone has heard of cavities, of course. But what do you really know about them? And are all cavities the same? As with most medical conditions, there are several types of cavities, which can also vary in severity. Let’s learn all about these different kinds of cavities and what you can do to treat and prevent tooth decay.
What Are Cavities?
Simply put, cavities are tooth decay. Naturally occurring bacteria that reside in our mouths feed on sugar and starch. As a result, they produce acids that can wear away tooth enamel (the protective outer layer of teeth), leaving pockets of decay in their wake. At first, small cavities may go unnoticed. But over time, they can get worse and eventually may cause significant pain and carry a risk of infection or other worrisome complications.
Types of Cavities by Location
Cavities are categorized in different ways. First, cavities are classified by their location on the tooth. This is important because it can be harder to spot and treat tooth decay depending on where it is occurring.
Pit and Fissure Cavities
Pit and fissure cavities are the most common types of cavities and typically occur on the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars. These areas have natural nooks and crannies that can trap food particles and bacteria.
Dentists often treat pit and fissure cavities by cleaning the affected area and placing dental fillings, which can be made of materials like amalgam or composite resin.
For all cavities, the best prevention is impeccable oral hygiene. Specifically for pit and fissure cavities, dental sealants can be applied to these vulnerable areas to create a protective barrier, reducing the risk of cavity development.
Smooth Surface Cavities
Smooth surface cavities develop on the flat surfaces between teeth or along the sides of teeth. They are usually slower to progress compared to pit and fissure cavities, but depending on where they are located (such as in between teeth), they can be harder to spot.
Typically, smooth surface cavities can be treated with fillings. However, when they occur between teeth, they may be more difficult to see and, therefore, may progress further before they are discovered.
Regular dental check-ups are crucial for detecting smooth surface cavities in their early stages. Also, flossing between teeth is extremely important to help prevent these cavities from forming.
Root cavities occur near the gums on exposed root surfaces of teeth, typically in older adults. Receding gums or gum disease can expose these roots to bacterial attack.
Treating root cavities may involve dental fillings or other restorative procedures. It's essential to address gum disease and practice good oral hygiene to prevent further root decay.
Preventing root cavities involves maintaining healthy gums through regular dental cleanings and practicing proper oral hygiene. If you have gingivitis or signs of gum disease, seek treatment right away.
Additionally, cavities can be described by their severity. The severity of a cavity may impact the type and complexity of treatment required to address it.
These are the most common and typically the least severe. Early-stage cavities only affect the enamel, the outermost layer of the tooth.
Moderate cavities occur when decay progresses beyond the surface. At this point, a cavity penetrates close to the dentin layer.
A cavity is considered advanced when it reaches past the enamel and into the dentin. Symptoms such as increased tooth sensitivity and mild discomfort often appear at this stage.
If left untreated, cavities can reach the sensitive pulp in the innermost chamber of the tooth, where nerves and blood vessels are located. This stage can cause severe pain, infection, and abscess formation.
Getting Cavity Treatment
The earlier you discover and treat a cavity, the better. More severe cases may require more complex intervention, including root canals and, in some cases, even tooth extraction.
Regular dental checkups are key in early cavity detection. Make sure to schedule them twice per year, and if you are experiencing any tooth pain, contact us right away. If it is a cavity, we can help you stop it in its tracks!