By the time you notice a hole in your tooth, acid from mouth bacteria and acidic foods and drinks have already eaten away at your tooth enamel. The good news is it isn't too late for your dentist to fill the hole and prevent any further damage.
Hole in Tooth or Cavity?
Cavity is a dental term that means a hole in a tooth. A cavity can appear anywhere on a tooth, even below the gumline in the root of the tooth. Babies and young children can develop cavities where they suck on a bottle at night, and older adults are at risk of cavities in the roots of their teeth when their gumline recedes. Holes can also appear between teeth and under fillings and crowns, if food and bacteria gather in these areas.
Causes of a Hole in the Tooth
A hole in a tooth appears over the following four stages:
Mouth bacteria consume sugary and starchy foods and produce acids, which combine with saliva, bacteria and food particles to form a sticky coating called plaque.
The acids in plaque eat away at tooth enamel, creating tiny openings where more acids and bacteria continue the demineralization process (where the enamel begins to be eaten away by the acid).
The tooth enamel weakens and finally breaks down under the acid attack. A hole appears in the tooth, and the acids attack the soft, yellow dentin beneath the enamel.
The hole becomes larger and deeper, and finally the acids and bacteria break through to the sensitive tooth pulp, which contains the tooth nerves. At this stage, the cavity becomes painful.
Treatments for a Hole in your Teeth
Dental treatment is necessary for a cavity no matter what stage it's at, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A patient who's experiencing pain should see a dentist as soon as possible. When a tooth isn't painful, it might be tempting to delay going to see the dentist, but early treatment provides the best outcome. If the hole isn't filled, the damage increases and the hole becomes painful sooner or later.
Here are three ways dentists can treat a cavity:
- Fillings. Providing the hole isn't too large, the dentist drills away the decayed parts of the tooth and fills the hole with composite resin, silver alloy, gold or porcelain.
- Crowns. For larger holes where the tooth structure can't support a filling, the dentist repairs what remains of the tooth and covers it with a crown made of porcelain, gold or porcelain fused with metal.
- Root canals. If the hole has penetrated the tooth pulp, the dentist might remove the pulp and tooth nerve in a procedure called a root canal. He or she then fills the hole with sealing material and puts a crown over the tooth if needed.
After a dentist has treated your cavity, there's plenty you can do to prevent another hole in your tooth. Brush twice a day with a toothpaste like Colgate Cavity Protection, which strengthens teeth with active fluoride and fights cavities. Floss once a day to remove debris from between your teeth. Your dentist can often spot another cavity before you feel a hole, so schedule regular checkups.
A hole in your tooth is a sign of trouble even if you don't have a toothache. Visit your dentist so he or she can fill the hole or provide another treatment. Looking after your teeth helps to keep them looking good for a longer period of time.