Diagnosing and fixing cavities

Do you have sore or sensitive teeth? Has it been a while since you’ve been to the dentist? It might be time for a check-up and an evaluation of your teeth for possible cavities.

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a form of tooth decay in which small holes are created over time in damaged parts of your teeth. In some cases, warning signs such as pain or sensitivity may be present, particularly when biting down or consuming hot or cold foods or beverages. However, it is also possible to have cavities with no signs or symptoms, which is why regular dentist visits are important to maintain good oral health.

How are cavities diagnosed?

During your dental visit, your dentist will ask you questions about your oral hygiene habits (i.e. brushing and flossing) as well as any symptoms you may be experiencing. During the examination, your dentist will visually inspect your teeth and will also use dental instruments to check for any soft spots or holes in the enamel of your teeth. S/he may also take x-rays to get a better sense of the health of your soft and hard tissues below the surface of your gums.

During these examinations, your dentist will be checking carefully for three kinds of cavities: pit and fissure cavities, which occur on the rough top surface of the teeth; smooth cavities, which occur on the smooth surfaces of the teeth; and root cavities, which are found on the root surfaces.

How will my dentist fix a cavity if I have one?

As with most problems, the solution to a cavity is easiest when it is in the early stages, which is why it is so important to establish and maintain a regular schedule of dental check-ups. Depending on the extent and severity of the cavity or cavities you have, your dentist may opt for a number of different treatments.

If you have a small cavity that has only just begun to form, your dentist may opt for a fluoride treatment to reinforce the enamel and potentially resolve the cavity before it can grow. This is a simple procedure wherein your dentist will apply fluoride in the form of a liquid, gel or foam that sits on your teeth for a short time before being rinsed off.

If you have a more developed cavity, a common procedure to treat it is a filling or restoration. Typically, fillings are made out of composite materials that are applied and then hardened with UV lights, though fillings can also utilize porcelain, gold, ceramic, or a mixture of materials.

If tooth decay has progressed beyond the point where a simple filling can remedy the situation, you may need a crown or root canal. In both cases, drilling to remove the decayed matter is required. In some cases, a crown – essentially a small covering that looks just like the part of the tooth that was drilled out – can be affixed to the tooth following the removal of decayed matter to cover and protect the remaining parts of the tooth. In other cases, more extensive removal of decayed matter is necessary, which is when you might need to have a root canal. During a root canal, your dentist will also remove damaged pulp from the inside of your tooth to prevent further damage from occurring. They will then fill that area with a filling as described above, and they may cover the tooth with a crown, as well.

In cases of severe tooth decay that has gone untreated, extraction of the tooth or teeth may be necessary.

More on Fixing Impacted Teeth