You bite down and you feel a slight twinge in your mouth. Should you wait and hope it goes away or make an appointment with your dentist?
Signs of a cavity, such as sensitivity in your teeth or even outright pain, indicate that it's time to get your teeth professionally checked. Learn which signs to watch out for and why maintaining regular dental visits and practicing preventive care is key for your health — and wallet!
If you haven't already, you're likely going to have to deal with a cavity at some point in your life.
Cavities are decayed areas (tiny areas or holes) in your teeth that result from bacteria build-up and harmful acids in the mouth. According to Ministry of Health (MOH), when you eat foods that contain carbohydrates (sugars and starches), these carbohydrates are eaten by the bacteria in plaque, producing acids that eat into the tooth. Over time, the tooth enamel begins to break down beneath the surface while the surface remains intact. When enough of the sub-surface enamel is eaten away, the surface collapses, forming a cavity. They can also go undetected at first, as early-stage decay may not produce any symptoms.
Luckily, cavities are treatable, and catching one early is good for not only your health and comfort but for your pocket too. If your dentist is able to detect and treat your cavity before it progresses too far, you can avoid more complicated and costly treatments.
As the MOH article referenced above outlines, there are three types of cavities:
- Coronal cavities — the most common type and usually located on chewing surfaces or between teeth.
- Root cavities — as we age, our gums recede, leaving parts of the tooth root exposed. Since there is no enamel covering tooth roots, these exposed areas easily decay.
- Recurrent decay — decay can form around existing fillings and crowns. This is because these areas tend to accumulate plaque, which can ultimately lead to decay.
In this Straits Times article archived by National Dental Centre Singapore, a 2016 survey found that almost one in three Singaporeans aged 60 and above - or 31 per cent of the age group - were totally toothless. In addition, there is also a high prevalence of cavities among children.
Although it's common for people to feel some amount of pain from a cavity, other visual and sensory factors can also help you determine if a cavity has begun to form. Common symptoms of decay may include:
- Discolouration on your tooth that is black, brown or white
- Unpleasant sensations, such as a sharp pain, twinges or a dull toothache
- Pain when biting down or eating
- A hole in the tooth, even if there's no discolouration or pain
- Tooth sensitivity to heat or cold
Even before you suspect that you have a cavity, you'll want to maintain regular dental visits every six months. Your dental professional not only cleans your mouth, but monitors any oral problem that can occur and spotting problems before they get serious, because you might not feel pain until the damage is done. As MOH reminds, prevention is better than cure.
If you do have a cavity, you cannot treat the condition on your own, and putting it off will only allow the decay to worsen. The earlier you see your dentist, the more likely it is that they can catch a cavity at an early stage, which may be easier and less costly to treat. Your dentist is your partner in oral care, so make an appointment with them as soon as possible for an assessment if you believe you have cavity symptoms.
To treat a cavity, your dentist will do a dental examination and may take X-rays too if they suspect there are hidden cavities. Early-stage cavities may even be fixed with a simple fluoride treatment. However, more invasive treatments may be necessary if the cavity has progressed. Your dentist may need to treat your cavity with a filling, crown or even a root canal or extraction if the decay has advanced.
Being proactive and catching a cavity early is the best way to stop the decay from worsening — and a timely appointment with your dentist can make all the difference.