Tooth Loss: From a Cavity?
- Posted on: Nov 15 2017
When we consult with patients, one of the topics that we focus on the most is how to prevent dental problems from occurring or getting serious. Studies have indicated just how effective a good oral care routine can be; you know, one that involves brushing and flossing and seeing the dentist every six months. As much as we now know, though, problems like cavities and gum disease continue to be prevalent among people of all ages. Rarely do we think about cavities as being a threat to the life of a tooth, but they are. Here, we want to discuss why it is so crucial that cavities be treated earlier rather than later.
What’s in a Cavity?
When we were children, most of us learned that a cavity is a hole, essentially. We may never go much beyond this idea, nor the idea that cavities are caused by sugar. In fact, a cavity is an area of damage on enamel that has originated with oral bacteria and the acidity these microbes deposit on the surface of a tooth. As acidic byproduct from bacteria sits on the hard shell of a tooth, minerals are leached from enamel. Initially, this results in a small divot. That small divot, over time, deepens. How deep a cavity goes depends on the timing of detection and treatment.
The Process of Decay
When a cavity expands, overall tooth structure weakens. The weaker the tooth, the more vulnerable it is to extensive damage. A tooth may crack or break completely in the most unexpected way, such as when chewing a relatively soft food. Minor cracks may not be noticeable, which increases the overall risk to the tooth.
Internal damage is one of the most concerning aspects of untreated tooth decay. The hardest part of cavity development is the initial damage that affects enamel. This is because enamel is the toughest part of the tooth. Once acid has penetrated the thickness of this shell, it more quickly affects softer tissues such as dentin. At the heart of the tooth, in the pulp chamber, bacteria find a hiding place where they usually cause infection. An infection within the pulp chamber can be significantly painful and needs to be treated with root canal therapy to prevent tooth loss.
Cavities do not always follow a predictable pattern. In some cases, decay occurs at the most vulnerable area of a tooth, the root. This can happen when inflammation has caused gum tissue to pull away from the tooth, exposing the delicate root structure to oral bacteria. Root cavities are especially concerning due to the faster potential for extensive damage leading to tooth loss.