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Straight Talk about Tooth Decay

One of the main reasons that people visit a dentist for regular checkups is because they are concerned about cavities. While practicing good oral hygiene can go a long way toward protecting against dental problems, some people are predisposed to developing cavities. Here are a few things to know about the cause and evolution of cavities:

Plaque is a substance that builds up on tooth surfaces. When plaque deposits interact with sugars in the foods we eat, harmful acids can form and attack teeth. Acids and bacteria that build up in the mouth can result in tooth decay, or the destruction of tooth enamel. When tooth decay advances, it can cause cavities, or holes in teeth. To protect the interior of those teeth, those cavities must be filled. A cavity that is left untreated and advances beyond the outer surfaces of a tooth can encroach on the tooth’s nerve and necessitate a root canal.

Regular dental visits can reveal the presence of decay. Using a dental mirror and other tools, your dentist will check your teeth for weak spots or signs of decay. He or she may also suggest periodic X-rays designed to uncover the presence of cavities in hard-to-see places, such as between teeth. You can be your own best advocate if you sense any changes in your oral health. If you notice areas of pain or increased sensitivity on your tooth surfaces between dental visits, it could be evidence of a cavity and you should make an appointment with your dentist. Certain medications and alterations in nutrition or diet can affect your predisposition for cavities even if you practice stellar oral hygiene.

If a dental examination does reveal the existence of a cavity, it’s important to make an appointment with your dentist to get the cavity filled. Filling options have come a long way over the years, and a variety of substances can now be used as fillings. Dangerous substances such as lead have been entirely phased out of use in dentistry, while advances in dental aesthetics have led to the use of materials that blend naturally with natural tooth color for a less obtrusive look. If you need to have a cavity filled, discuss filling options with your dentist; he or she can advise you about the differences in aesthetics, durability, and expense. Some options might include metal amalgam(silver/mercury), gold, composite (or “tooth-colored”) material, porcelain, or glass ionomer.

When cavities deepen to the point that they require more intensive therapies such as a root canal or even a tooth extraction, your dentist can discuss options with you for maintaining the integrity of your smile. Advances in dental care over the last several decades have resulted in new treatment alternatives for a variety of dental problems. That’s good news for people who experience dental anxiety.

Your best defense against tooth decay is to develop a thorough daily oral hygiene routine, make healthy food choices, and visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. As always, your dentist is your best resource for maintaining your oral health.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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