Do You Know How Cavities Happen?
- Posted on: Oct 15 2017
When we discuss the problem of tooth decay, aka cavities, what we may most often find is information related to the onset of decay. Why do we get cavities? Is sugar to blame? Does brushing our teeth help? These are all important matters, but we’re not going to discuss them today. What we want to focus on is how decay progresses from a tiny aggression by bacteria to full-blown infection.
The Decaying Tooth
Enamel is as strong as, or stronger than, many of the bones in the body. That’s a lot of strength just for biting and chewing! So how is it that this substance gradually crumbles under the effects of bacterial invasion? Here’s the step-by-step process:
- Enamel becomes depleted of minerals. This may not be widespread, all over the tooth (that would be erosion, which is another prevalent problem today). In the case of cavities, depletion localizes to one spot, the spot where bacteria have accumulated. Demineralization often happens in the deep grooves on the chewing surface of the molars at the back of the mouth. It can be seen by a dentist as white or light brown spots. When detected, demineralization can be treated with a good cleaning, fluoride treatment, and dental sealants.
- Enamel breaks down. The localized spot where bacteria remain seated is continually eroded by acidity. The hard outer surface becomes softer and softer until, finally, a hole is made through the entire thickness of the shell of enamel. The sooner this problem is treated with a small filling, the better.
- Dentin decay. One of the reasons that enamel needs to be so hard is because of the underlying matter; dentin is so soft. Dentin also has numerous tubules traveling through it from the core of the tooth. Decay that has reached this layer of tooth structure can move more quickly inward and is likely to cause noticeable pain. To restore the fullness of structure to the tooth, it may be necessary to remove decay and seat a dental crown.
- The inflammation and infection of pulp material at the center of a tooth is a rather urgent matter. The pain caused by this level of decay is usually significant, distracting. Endodontic therapy may be necessary to remove all infected soft-tissue. This includes the nerves and root of the tooth. The structure is then regained with a dental crown.