What are the Signs of Tooth Decay?

In this unusual age of coronavirus, we are being forced to think about things that we may have relied on others for in the past.  For example, people who see the dentist regularly usually don’t worry much about spotting cavities because they know the dentist will tell them if there is anything to worry about.  Now, though, you are not seeing your dentist for evaluations or preventive care, so this is something you do need to worry about for yourself!  Periodically, you should take a good look around your mouth, evaluating the teeth and gums.  Parents, you should do this for your children as well.

Large Cavities

Many large cavities are pretty obvious.  They appear as large, black or brown holes in a tooth.  They usually cause pain, but not always.  This is because large cavities that have been present for a long time can cause the nerve within the tooth to die.  A dead nerve does not send pain signals to the brain.  It does, however, harbor bacteria and develop into a dangerous infection.

While pain can sometimes be an important indicator of a dental problem, it isn’t always present, so it is never the only indicator of a problem.  If you see a large cavity, with or without pain, you can assume that a dental infection is either already present or on its way.  If there is also swelling present in the gums, face and/or neck, call us immediately because you may need urgent care.

Early Cavities

Early cavities, the kind that can be “fixed” with straightforward dental fillings, do not cause many noticeable signs or symptoms.  That’s why you need to look closely.  Here are a few things that could show up:

  • Areas of the teeth that appear chalky white
  • Your floss catching or getting hung between two teeth (where it didn’t before)
  • Persistent bad breath that does not improve with better oral hygiene
  • New food traps between teeth

Why Bother Catching Early Cavities?  What Can I Do About Them without the Dentist?

This is a great question!  It is a smart question because it recognizes that cavities don’t just “heal”, and they typically require a dentist’s intervention.  It is also not a futile question because you can take steps to try to slow down the growth of any cavities.  Remember our last blog posts about sensitive teeth and fluoride?  Fighting both sensitivity and cavities involves the important process of remineralization.  There are various products you can use to promote remineralization, which will help you slow down the growth of cavities.

Slow Down Cavities

First, you must stop feeding those cavity-causing bacteria with sugar.  Cut out sugary and acidic drinks from your diet.  You can “starve” them by eating mostly proteins and fat, and drinking only water!

Next, you must remove dental plaque to the very best of your ability.  Sticky dental plaque is where cavity-causing bacteria live.  If you neglect brushing and flossing, you are allowing bacteria to stay on the teeth.  Make sure you are using the appropriate technique for both brushing and flossing, in which the toothbrush bristles and floss touch both teeth and gums.  Wrap the floss around each side of each tooth in a C-shaped technique (there are great instructional videos about this on Youtube).

Lastly, add remineralizing products to your oral care regimen.  Remineralization involves ingredients that neutralize and/or kill bacteria and repair weakened tooth structure.  Fluoride is the most widely available remineralizing agent.  Newer ingredients proven to remineralize enamel and dentin are arginine, ACP, and nanohydroxyapatite.  Use these products only as directed on the packaging and keep them out of the reach of young children!

Want More Information about Cavities?

Search our website and blog!  We have tons of great information about what causes cavities, how you can avoid them, and how fillings are used to repair them.