What Is Dental Caries

dental caries

Dental caries is the medical, scientific term to describe tooth decay and/or tooth cavity, one of the most common and widespread diseases (not only mouth-related) all over the world. 

The main cause of dental caries is bacteria. More specifically, those from the mutans streptococci strain (i.e. Streptococcus mutans, lactobacilli, and streptococcus sobrinus)

When you eat certain foods—especially but not limited to sugary foods—, these bacteria will release acids when they break down the food debris.This will increase the acidity in your mouth, which can significantly damage

your tooth, resulting in dental caries or cavities.

Two Different Types of Dental Caries

We can differentiate dental caries or cavities into two different types, based on the location where they occur.

If the cavity forms on the enamel—the topmost, hard surface of the tooth—, it is called occlusal caries. On the other hand, if the cavity forms between two teeth, it is called interproximal caries.

These two locations are where bacteria mainly reside in your mouth. When the teeth and surrounding tissue are not cleaned and cared for properly, the bacteria will digest sugar and produce acids. 

These acids are strong enough to destroy the enamel, forming tiny holes at first, but will develop into bigger cavity, and finally, a huge crack on your tooth. 

Acid can also penetrate the enamel through the pores, causing decay in the dentin—the inner, softer layer of your tooth—when the dentin broke down, a cavity is created. 

When the decay is not treated properly, this process will continue and eventually the bacteria will reach the tooth’s root, which includes the soft pulp and nerves, causing infection and abscess.

Symptoms for Dental Caries

At its earliest stage, dental caries might not show any symptoms. Symptoms usually occur when the cavity is large and visible enough, which can cause mild to severe pain and sensitivity to hot or cold food/drinks and sweetness.

Caries diagnosed and treated at its earliest stage can be completely cured and reversed. This is when the decay hadn’t formed the tiny holes, and appear as white spots. 

Caries that has eroded through the enamel can’t be reversed, but we can stop the acid damage and cover the damage accordingly. Left untreated, caries will get worse and penetrate deeper through the enamel and dentin.

Treatment Options

There are four main ways to treat dental caries. These treatments must be taken by a dental professional with two main goals: stopping the acid damage, and repairing the damage cosmetically and functionally:

1.Dental Filling

The most common—and generally the most affordable— option to treat dental caries. 

The dentist will drill into the affected tooth to remove the decayed enamel and dentin, and then ‘fill’ the drilled space with a dental filling material.

There are different types of filling material to choose from. Composite porcelain or resin is the most common material since it can match the patient’s natural teeth color. Metal (amalgam) fillings, however, are stronger and commonly used to treat molars. Contrary to popular belief, the mercury inclusion in amalgam fillings is fairly safe when the filling is implemented properly. 

2. Root Canal

Root canal is the treatment option taken when the damage caused by caries is already too developed and the nerve of the tooth is already dead

Root canal—as opposed to extraction—, is performed to save the structure of the dead tooth. The dentist will remove the infected, dead nerve and the pulp (the blood vessel tissues in the tooth’s root) and fill the area with a synthetic material. 

Commonly, a root canal is combined with a dental crown treatment to cover the affected area.

3. Dental Crown

Dental crown is the preferred treatment when the cavity is already too big, or the tooth is already cracked and so can’t be treated with a filling. The crown—commonly made of porcelain—is custom-fitted to the tooth to perfectly cover the affected area.

4. Tooth Extraction

When the tooth is already decayed beyond repair—or even dead—another option beside root canal is to extract the tooth. 

The gap left by the missing tooth, however, might cause future problems like misalignment of the adjacent teeth or even bone loss. If that’s the case, dentures, dental bridge, or dental implant may be placed to fill the gap.

Prevention For Dental Caries

As mentioned, dental caries—or dental cavity— is one of the most common diseases in the world, and can cause serious damage when left untreated.

However, dental cavities are actually relatively easy to prevent by maintaining a good oral hygiene practice, such as:

  • Brushing your teeth at least twice a day. Make sure to use fluoride toothpaste—effective in reducing acid production—, and proper toothbrush
  • Although it might be tempting, don’t brush your teeth immediately after eating, when the acid buildup is at its height. Give at least 15-20 minutes before you brush, or if you absolutely need it, rinse your mouth with water first.
  • Floss at least once a day. Remember that caries can form between your teeth, and you need flossing to clean these spaces. 
  • Visit your dentist at least once every six months (twice a year). You still need to get your teeth professionally cleaned even after keeping a good oral hygiene practice, but this will also help in diagnosing caries as early as possible. 

When To Visit Your Dentist

The earlier dental caries is diagnosed, the higher the chance to reverse the damage. This is why maintaining a regular schedule to visit the dentist is important.

When you feel your teeth become overly sensitive to biting, especially to hot, cold, and sweet foods/beverages, contact your dentist immediately.

End Words

Dental caries, or tooth decay is a very common problem affecting anyone, old and young. 

Dentists at North York Smile Centre provide various treatment options to treat dental caries, as well as professional dental cleaning to prevent cavities from forming. Make a call immediately and let our friendly, professional dentist to be your partner in oral hygiene. 


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