Cavities and Tooth Decay

Online Dental Education Library

Our team of dental specialists and staff strive to improve the overall health of our patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing and treating conditions associated with your teeth and gums. Please use our dental library to learn more about dental problems and treatments available. If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment, contact us.

Commonly Asked Questions:

I am allergic to latex. Is this a problem?  No, our office is latex-free.

My office just took an x-ray, why do you need to take one?  The more information we gather, the better we are able to care for you and your tooth. Our digital imaging program also allows us to measure the tooth, helping us to treat the tooth more quickly during treatment.

Will I need a crown after my root canal?  Do not be surprised if your dentist recommends a crown when you return to them. The tooth is weaker after root canal treatment and a crown is able to protect against breakage or fracture. If you already have a crown, you may only need a permanent filling.

Will there be pain after the root canal?  You should expect some minor biting and pressure sensitivity for 3-5 days after the root canal treatment. Over-the-counter medications, such as Ibuprofen or Advil, should help alleviate this.

What options does your office offer to help me relax during my treatment?  We are equipped to offer Nitrous Oxide Analgesia, also known as laughing gas. This affects everyone differently. Some patients get very sleepy on nitrous, while others are simply more relaxed. We can also offer intravenous moderate conscious sedation. for more information, please visit our Sedation Options page. If you are interested in either of these options, we would be happy to discuss it with you at your consult visit.

Why do you place a temporary filling?   You will be sore after your root canal treatment. We prefer to place a filling that is occlusally reduced so you do not bite too hard on it while you are healing. You will heal much quicker after treatment if the tooth is not occluded on.  Also, by waiting to have the permanent filling placed, we are better able to diagnose what could be causing symptoms later on.

Why can't I just take Antibiotics?  Antibiotics are carried in the blood stream to problem areas in the body so they can do their job. After a tooth has died, there is no blood flow into a tooth so the antibiotics never reach the source of the problem. Even though antibiotics do not solve the underlying problem, they can still be useful in relieving symptoms.

What Is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is caused by a variety of things; in medical terms, cavities are called caries, which are caused by long-term destructive forces acting on tooth structures such as enamel and the tooth's inner dentin material.

These destructive forces include frequent exposure to foods rich in sugar and carbohydrates. Soda, candy, ice cream—even milk—are common culprits.  Left inside your mouth from non-brushing and flossing, these materials break down quickly, allowing bacteria to do their dirty work in the form of a harmful, colorless sticky substance called plaque.

The plaque works in concert with leftover food particles in your mouth to form harmful acids that destroy enamel and other tooth structures.

If cavities aren't treated early enough, they can lead to more serious problems requiring treatments such as root canal therapy.

Preventing Cavities

The best defense against cavities is good oral hygiene, including brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing and rinsing. Your body's own saliva is also an excellent cavity fighter, because it contains special chemicals that rinse away many harmful materials. Chewing a good sugarless gum will stimulate saliva production between brushing.

Special sealants and varnishes can also be applied to stave off cavities from forming.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a cavity:

  • Unusual sensitivity to hot and cold water or foods.
  • A localized pain in your tooth or near the gum line.
  • Teeth that change color.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by sugary substances in breast milk and some juices, which combine with saliva to form pools inside the baby's mouth.

If left untreated, this can lead to premature decay of your baby's future primary teeth, which can later hamper the proper formation of permanent teeth.

One of the best ways to avoid baby bottle tooth decay is to not allow your baby to nurse on a bottle while going to sleep. Encouraging your toddler to drink from a cup as early as possible will also help stave off the problems associated with baby bottle tooth decay.