Leaving the dentist’s office with a clean report of “no cavities” is a wonderful feeling, and it’s a good sign that you have been taking excellent care of your teeth and gums in between your professional dental cleanings and examinations.
Although no one wants a cavity, an estimated 92% of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have cavities, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health. So, with dental cavities being such a common affliction, patients often wonder exactly what dentists are looking for when they’re looking for cavities and how dentists actually detect them.
What Are Cavities?
To understand how dentists detect cavities, you must first know what dental cavities actually are. Sometimes called dental caries, cavities are exactly what they sound like, holes that can develop in your teeth.
Cavities develop as a result of tooth decay which occurs when acids in the mouth break down your tooth enamel, producing weak spots that eventually turn into caries.
The acids responsible for tooth decay are sometimes found in the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. They are also produced by harmful bacteria that live inside the mouth and stick to the surface of our teeth inside sticky plaque and tartar buildup.
How to Tell If You Have a Cavity: Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay
Small cavities and soft spots in enamel often go undetected because they usually won’t cause any noticeable symptoms early on.
As cavities grow larger, however, moving into the tooth’s inner layer of dentin or interior core of pulp, they can lead to several symptoms including:
- Newly developed or worsened sensitivity to hot, cold, sweets, and/or pressure
- White or dark spots on the teeth
- Other discoloration
- Visible hole in the tooth
- Bleeding, irritated, red, or inflamed gums
- Persistent bad breath
- Pus between the teeth
If you notice any new signs or symptoms developing inside your mouth, it’s important to schedule a dental exam right away.
As a general rule of thumb, the sooner you address tooth decay and other oral health problems, the simpler the treatment. In fact, if you catch tooth decay before dental caries have developed, you might be able to reverse the decay and repair your tooth enamel with fluoride treatments, good oral hygiene habits, and no further treatments.
How Do Dentists Detect Cavities?
When patients are experiencing symptoms of dental cavities, this gives a dentist a good reason to look for them and also take a set of dental x-rays to reveal signs of cavities that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Whether a patient has symptoms of cavities or not, our dentist always examines each patient’s teeth carefully, looking for potential early signs of tooth decay and cavities that have not yet caused any discomfort.
To detect cavities, our dentist performs a visual examination and feels the teeth for soft spots and holes using a special dental tool. We might also detect early signs of cavities on routine dental x-rays that are taken specifically to screen our patients for potential issues that could be occurring inside the teeth or below the gum line.
Our dentist first looks for spots on our patient’s teeth that are a different color than the rest of the tooth. These spots might appear whiter than the rest of the tooth, and this is a sign of the demineralization that marks early tooth decay. Other times, the spots might appear darker than the rest of the tooth. In these instances, there is usually a more advanced cavity developing in the interior of a tooth.
If we detect signs that indicate the possible presence of a cavity or if a patient reports symptoms of a cavity, we will likely recommend taking a set of digital dental x-rays to confirm and locate the patient’s cavities.
On x-rays, cavities appear as dark spots against a background of light teeth and bright-white fillings, if the patient has already had cavities treated.
Cavity Treatment at West Bend Dentistry
Treatments for cavities vary depending on the severity of the patient’s tooth decay. In most cases, cavities are treated using dental fillings.
Dental fillings are usually comprised of a composite resin material in a shade chosen to match the natural color of your tooth. A dental filling fills the cavity, restores the tooth’s structure, and prevents further decay from occurring in that spot.
In more severe cases of tooth decay in which the interior of a tooth, the tooth’s structure, or its root system has been compromised, other treatments such as a cap or crown or root canal therapy might be necessary.
If you’re diagnosed with a dental cavity, our dentist, Dr. Jared Harding can talk with you about the treatment option that is right for you. To learn more or schedule a dental exam and cleaning, we welcome you to contact us today!