Are Cavities Always Visible?

Are Cavities Always Visible?
Author: Espire Dental Posted: December 10th, 2023 Category:

Cavities may not always be visible to the naked eye — there are hidden signs you have one and need treatment.

Cavities top the list of most widespread dental problems in the U.S. In fact, 90 percent of adults over age 20 have had at least one cavity. But did you know a cavity is not always visible to the naked eye?

Even if you don’t see a cavity, you’ll likely feel the symptoms of one, especially if it remains untreated. Let’s go over the signs of a cavity — both visible and invisible — so you can hurry in for treatment to prevent pain and costly complications down the road.

How do you know you have a cavity?

Cavities (dental caries) develop when the bacteria on your teeth form an acid that burrows through the tough outer coating of the tooth (enamel) and into the next layer (dentin). At this point, you may see a hole in the chewing surface of your tooth or along the gum line. Or, the tooth may change color to black or brown. Yet it’s not always easy to notice a cavity if it’s between teeth or on the large molars far back within the mouth, where most cavities take hold.

But just because you don’t see a cavity doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Even if a cavity is invisible, you may notice other signs, such as a persistent toothache, sensitivity to hot and cold, and pain when biting the tooth. If you experience these symptoms, see your dentist immediately. They will take X-rays and check your teeth for decay. Early-stage tooth decay may be reversed with fluoride treatments to build up the enamel. A filling performed under sedation is the standard therapy to treat larger cavities.

Delaying treatment for a cavity can bring about serious complications. If the decay spreads to the pulp, you may need a root canal, a more complicated dental procedure that may involve a crown. The tooth may become abscessed as the bacterial infection within it grows. Tooth loss is possible as decay severely weakens the tooth, gums, and bone.

What are your risk factors for a cavity?

Cavities can also be treated early if you have a higher chance of developing tooth decay. Look over these risk factors to see if any apply to you:

Poor dental hygiene. If you don’t brush or floss daily, you’re allowing bacteria and plaque to grow on your teeth and gums. This leads to tooth decay and tartar, a hardened substance that damages your gums.

Snacking on sweets. Sugary foods and beverages accelerate the formation of acids in the teeth, and it’s the acid that damages the tooth. 

Dry mouth. The saliva in your mouth whisks away decay-causing food particles and the acids that harm teeth. When you don’t have enough saliva due to certain chronic conditions or medications, your teeth stand a higher risk of decay.

Skipping dental checkups. Those twice-yearly dental appointments allow your dentist to spot decay early and start treatment immediately. Moreover, the dental hygienist can remove the tartar you can’t with regular brushing. When you skip those visits, you put your teeth and gums at risk.

Five tips to prevent cavities

Although cavities are very treatable, you’d probably prefer not to have one. So keep these five tips in mind to prevent tooth decay:

Brush and floss daily. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least twice daily removes harmful bacteria and plaque. Meanwhile, flossing enters the spaces between teeth where bacteria can cause cavities.

Watch your sugar intake. Since sugar is a major cause of cavities, limit sugary foods and beverages. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables boost saliva flow and decrease the chance of a cavity.

Get more fluoride in your mouth. Fluoride toothpaste is one way to get more decay-fighting fluoride in your mouth, but there are other ways. Instead of bottled water, drink tap water, which is usually infused with fluoride.

Consider fluoride treatments. If you are at a higher risk for cavities, talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments, including sealants applied to back molars or a prescription fluoride solution squeezed into a tray and placed over your teeth.

Schedule a dental checkup today. Schedule a dental checkup and cleaning every six months to reduce your chance of a cavity. If you have tooth decay, your dentist can start treatment immediately and prevent further complications.

Get that toothache fixed today.

Dr. Jeff Gray and Dr. Greg Hurtado at Espire Dental in La Mesa have been providing the best quality cavity treatments to the San Diego community for over 30 years. Schedule your consultation online!

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