This is one of the questions we are asked on a daily basis.
First, we have to understand the anatomy of our teeth. A tooth is composed of layers, like an onion. The outer layer is a tough, white layer called the enamel. This is what you see when you look in your mouth. Under the enamel lies the dentin, this is a hard but porous tissue. It is the main body of your tooth. It is slightly softer than the enamel and yellowish in color. Finally, at the center, we have the pulp of the tooth. This houses the blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.
Second, we need to understand where a cavity comes from. A cavity forms when acids in the mouth break down the enamel. How do we get acid in our mouth, you ask? Bacteria live on your teeth inside a film called plaque. When you eat foods or drink liquids with sugar or starch, the bacteria feed off of them and turn the sugars in to acids. When your teeth are under attack from acids, the risk of cavities go way up.
A cavity starts out as a tiny spot on the enamel of your tooth, these can be spotted by the trained eye of your dentist or x-rays that have been taken. Most of the time your dentist will advise you that they can watch the spot and with regular brushing, flossing, checkups, and limiting sugar you may never need a filling on these small cavities. If not caught quick enough, or there is a high intake of sugar, a cavity will grow. When the decay (cavity) grows larger, it moves into the dentin. Unfortunately, once a cavity reaches this point, the only way to be cavity free again, is with a filling.
Our teeth are the only body part that doesn’t have the ability to heal itself. When the cavity is in this stage, normally, there is no pain or sensitivity felt. If you are having a toothache, the decay has reached the final layer, or the pulp of the tooth where the nerves are located. At this point, the options to restore the tooth are a root canal to save the tooth, or an extraction, to take the tooth out.
The American Dental Association recommends seeing your dentist every 6 months, to have x-rays and a dental exam to check for the start of cavities, whether between your teeth or on the chewing surface. Call to make your appointment today.