All You Need to Know About Cavities and Fillings

Millions of people experience cavities every year, and they are one of the most common dental problems among children and adults alike. Cavities that go untreated can get costly, resulting in problems like root canals or even tooth loss, but dental treatments like fillings provide a fast and affordable way to stop the decay and prevent further damage.

What are cavities?

Cavities are caused by an accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which consists of bacteria and food particles. Over time, the build-up of these substances damages the enamel and forms holes in the teeth. These bacteria also produce an acid that breaks down the enamel and makes the underlying dentin and pulp susceptible to decay and infection.

The time it takes for cavities to develop depends on several factors, including your oral hygiene habits, how often you brush and floss, and the food you eat. Cavities usually develop over the course of several months. This is one reason why biannual dentist visits for cleanings and exams are so important. When you have your teeth checked every six months, you improve the chances of finding a cavity early, when it is most treatable, and even reduce your risk of developing one in the first place.

Tooth model showing a dental cavity on a pink background

What are cavities?

Cavities are caused by an accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth, which consists of bacteria and food particles. Over time, the build-up of these substances damages the enamel and forms holes in the teeth. These bacteria also produce an acid that breaks down the enamel and makes the underlying dentin and pulp susceptible to decay and infection.

The time it takes for cavities to develop depends on several factors, including your oral hygiene habits, how often you brush and floss, and the food you eat. Cavities usually develop over the course of several months. This is one reason why biannual dentist visits for cleanings and exams are so important. When you have your teeth checked every six months, you improve the chances of finding a cavity early, when it is most treatable, and even reduce your risk of developing one in the first place.

Can food cause cavities?

Diet is one of the leading causes of cavities. Foods like cookies, candy, and soda are full of sugar, which can quickly get stuck in the hard-to-clean crevices of your teeth. This provides a breeding ground for bacteria that produces the enamel-eroding acid that creates cavities. Additionally, the sugar in these foods is acidic, which can further weaken the enamel of your teeth and increase your risk of developing cavities.

Also, sugary and starchy foods are often sticky, which makes them more difficult to remove from your teeth when you brush. The sugar and bacteria remain on your teeth longer, increasing your risk for cavities. 

Can cavities be genetic?

In addition to diet, studies have shown that genetics play a significant role in the development of cavities. People with a family history of cavities are more likely to experience cavities than those without these genes. If you have a family history of cavities, speak with your dentist about preventative measures like fluoride treatments and sealants.

How do I know if I have a cavity?

Visually, cavities appear as dark spots on the surface of the tooth. They can range from yellowish-brown to black, depending on the severity of the cavity. A white spot on a tooth that develops overnight could be a cavity. Only a dentist can determine if you have a cavity, so if you notice any spots or discolorations, be sure to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to have it examined.

Other indicators of a cavity include pain when eating something sweet, hot, or cold. You may also experience pain when you brush or floss. Additionally, you may notice your teeth becoming more sensitive than usual or even a hole in your tooth. 

Identifying and Diagnosing Cavities

Dentists detect cavities during oral exams, which consist of a visual and physical inspection of the mouth. During the exam, the dentist will check the teeth and gums for any signs of decay, such as discoloration, soft spots, or holes in the enamel. The dentist may also use an instrument to probe the teeth and check for cavities.

In addition to visual examinations, dentists may also use a laser to detect cavities. Once a cavity has been diagnosed, the dentist can recommend treatment options.

What if a cavity goes untreated?

Cavities will not heal independently, and the decay will worsen when left untreated, leading to further problems. They can spread to other teeth and the surrounding gum tissue, leading to gum disease and tooth loss. In more severe cases, the decay can spread to the supporting bone structure of the teeth, leading to pain, infection, and even abscesses, which require more extensive treatment like root canals. Untreated cavities can cause bad breath, toothaches, and sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

What are fillings?

A filling is a safe, effective, and affordable way to treat cavities and help prevent further decay. It is a dental procedure that involves the removal of the decayed portion of the tooth and the replacement of the lost tooth structure with filling material, such as gold, porcelain, silver amalgam, and composite resin.

Temporary vs Permanent Fillings

Temporary fillings are used to fill a cavity that is not too deep and is intended to be removed in the future. These fillings are typically made of a dental material that can be easily removed, such as zinc oxide eugenol or glass ionomer cement. If you have a cavity that causes immediate pain and discomfort, a dentist may do a temporary filling to alleviate the pain until a more permanent solution is completed.

The majority of fillings are permanent fillings. They are more durable and can last up to 10 – 15 years. Permanent fillings are typically made of more durable materials, such as composite resin, porcelain, or gold. Permanent fillings are used when a more secure filling is necessary or when there is no need to replace or remove the filling in the future. 

Fillings on Different Types of Teeth

Dentists use different fillings depending on the type and location of the tooth, the size of the damaged area, the extent of the decay, and the type of restoration needed. Molars are often filled with amalgam (silver) or composite (tooth-colored) fillings, while premolars may be filled with either composite or amalgam.

Dentists will usually fill canines with either composite or gold, while the anterior teeth are usually filled with composite. Fillings can also be used to repair cracked or broken teeth.

What is the process for getting a dental filling?

The procedure for dental fillings begins with the dentist numbing the area around the tooth with a local anesthetic. Once the site is numb, your dentist will use a drill and other special tools to remove any decayed or damaged parts of the tooth, then clean out the inside of the tooth and smooth the area.

A dental filling material is then packed into the cavity and shaped to fit the tooth. The material is hardened with a special light or chemical solution. After the filling is hardened, the dentist will polish the tooth to give it a natural look and ensure your bite feels comfortable.

It is essential to note that a tooth with a filling can still get another cavity. The underlying tooth structure remains vulnerable to decay even if a filling is placed since the filling doesn’t prevent plaque and bacteria from building up on another part of the tooth. Good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups will still be essential to monitor your fillings and detect any new cavities.

Does insurance cover fillings?

Most dental insurance plans will cover the cost of your filling as a preventative measure or if it is medically necessary, while others may not. It is essential to check with your insurance provider to determine what type of coverage you have.

A cavity filling without insurance for a metal amalgam can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per tooth. Composite fillings, which are tooth-colored and often used in visible areas, can range from $90 to $250 per tooth. There may be additional costs if the filling requires additional preparation or if the cavity is large.

Get Your Cavities Filled at Dental Depot of Oklahoma

Whether you need fluoride to prevent a cavity or a filling to fix one, Dental Depot of Oklahoma provides all the comprehensive dental care you and your family need for a lifetime of good oral health. What’s more, we make it easy, convenient, and affordable for you to get the services you need, from flexible scheduling and Saturday appointments at all of our locations across the state to a variety of payment options, including most major insurance plans and SoonerCare

Don’t wait to treat a cavity or take care of your dental health. Find the Dental Depot location nearest you and schedule an appointment today!

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