Home Living Life Health What Does a Cavity Look Like: Symptoms and 5 Best Treatment Options.

What Does a Cavity Look Like: Symptoms and 5 Best Treatment Options.

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What does a cavity look like: an overview and detailed understanding, symptoms, and 5 treatment options.

A cavity or a tooth decay, or dental caries refers to a microbial disease of calcified tissues of the teeth which occur due to demineralization or destruction of the organic substances, which may appear blackish-brown discoloration looking like small, tiny holes appearing as dark spots or dark area in the mouth clinically.

These holes can be both small as dots and also as large as an entire tooth.

When the biofilm comes in contact with the fermentable dietary carbohydrates on the tooth surface, over time, it develops cavitation. As time progresses, the tooth appears more radiolucent than the unaffected area.

Can the cavities go away, or is it permanent? 

Dental decay or cavities are reversible if detected early and treated with appropriate care; however, if the cavities are left unattended, it can cause permanent change and loss of tooth structure, leading to complications and dental extractions or loose teeth.

Keep reading to learn more.

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Etiological Factors for Dental Cavity or Caries Development:

  • Dietary factors like consumption of certain foods like excess sugars or sweets and sweet food, amount of carbohydrate consumed, snacking between the meals, sticky food, carbonated drinks can cause microorganisms that can not be seen through the naked eye and bacteria like streptococcus mutants and actinomycosis viscous to grow and develop colonies.
  • Systemic factors like hereditary, pregnancy, lactation, diabetes.
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Immunological factors
  • Accumulation of plaque and calculus.
  • Dry mouth or xerostomia

The most accepted theory for tooth decay is chemico parasitic theory or acidogenic theory, which states that the acid produced by the microorganisms on carbohydrates results in decalcification and demineralization of enamel and the tooth structure.

Tooth decay and its size vary from small to large, also depending on the location and extent of the cavity.

With time various classifications have been recorded, but the most common types, to name a few, are:

  • interproximal caries
  • recurrent caries
  • arrested caries
  • forward or backward caries
  • pre and post-eruptive caries
  • pits and fissure caries
  • radiation caries caused by excessive x-ray radiations
  • root caries
  • rampant caries

Caries formation and its biofilm: 

BIOFILM is nothing but the dental plaque deposited on the enamel surface. It consists of a community of organisms such as S. Mitis, S. sanguis, capable of producing acids and fermenting sugars.

It is neutralized by saliva and results in carious lesions by demineralization of enamel and dentinal layers.

Signs and symptoms of dental tooth decay:

  • pain radiating to the ears
  • headache
  • fever
  • bleeding gums
  • mobility of teeth
  • food particle lodgement
  • excruciating pain while laying down, drinking, or eating hot or cold food.
  • tooth sensitivity
  • bad breath
  • swelling
  • toothache
  • visible signs of dark or discolored brown spots

Diagnosis of dental caries:

Traditionally caries can be detected using visual inspection, tactile sensation, radiographic examination, transillumination using the mouth mirror.

Modern methods include visible light: QLF, DELF, DIFOTI by digital imaging or radiovisiography, also known as RVG and CBCT, laser, electric pulp testing, and ultrasound.

Pre-treatment assessment of the patient:

The patient’s detailed medical history and health conditions should be taken, the recent history of hospitalization, allergies to medications, systemic diseases, and very high-risk cardiac abnormalities.

The patient’s detailed dental history or past dental problems, previous dental treatment, patient sensitivity of any procedures and experiences, and response to the dental treatment must be checked.

Radiographic Diagnosis or X-ray/Iopar interpretations:

What does a cavity look like on a radiograph?

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Even the early signs of tooth decay can be diagnosed on the intraoral radiograph. There are various types of radiographic methods used to assess the tooth cavities, such as bitewing radiographs, xeroradiography, occlusal radiographs, which help in easy recognition of the cavities at an early stage deciduous also known as baby teeth or milk tooth and the adult permanent dentition.

Advanced dental caries or deep dental caries penetrate the tooth enamel and dentin, rendering the tooth tender on percussion, which is vital to detect cavities early. Radiolucency can be seen involving the enamel, dentine, and pulp suggestive of the underlying periodontal pathology and includes loss of lamina dura and periodontal ligament space.

Patient position and the correct angulation of the radiographic film are extremely important. Patient protection and operator protection should also be kept in mind because excessive x rays can be harmful on exposure to uncontrolled radiations.

How to Minimize Dental Caries

What does a cavity look like intraorally?

Let’s see.

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How do we reduce cavity development or tooth decay?

What are the necessary precautions to be taken to stop the progression of tooth discoloration and sensitive teeth?

  • Reduce the intake of sugary foods and sweet foods and drinks.
  • Patient education and motivation are extremely important. The proper brushing techniques should be followed. the patient is advised regular brushing, including all the chewing surfaces, flossing, and using interdental aids to remove the food particles from the proximal areas.
  • Chlorhexidine mouth wash 0.12% or a fluoride rinse should be used after a few minutes or an hour of brushing.do not use mouth wash immediately as it may take away the full fluoride content.
  • Always use fluoride toothpaste or denitrifies of about 1ppm as it helps to prevent cavities.
  • Deciduous teeth should be given oral prophylaxis, and fluoride treatments should be applied by stannous fluoride or APF methods.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene by drinking plenty of water after food as it dislodges the food particles.
  • Saliva acts as a natural cleanser as it dilutes the acid produced in the plaque biofilm; it acts by buffering mechanism assisting in demineralization and formation of a pellicle.
  • Consider taking sugar substitutes like xylitol, stevia, or natural sugars.
  • Early-stage cavities or small holes, the dark spot can be treated by pits and fissure sealants.
  • Fluoride can be implemented in tap water or community water, salt, and milk.

When to visit a dentist or a dental clinic?

It is advised that the patient should regularly keep their oral hygiene in check by routine cleaning, restoration of decayed teeth, and extractions of retained deciduous teeth or any grossly decayed tooth.

  • Visit a dentist when the pain gets unbearable, sharpshooting, or excruciating pain.
  • in case of intraoral or extraoral swelling
  • sensitive teeth and food lodgement
  • intrinsic or extrinsic staining of teeth
  • underlying tooth pathology
  • pericoronitis or tooth impaction

Treatment Planning

If the caries are left untreated, it can cause serious complications, permanent damage, and tooth structure loss. When the treatment is carried out at early stages, the procedure can be done as conservatively as possible, and the natural form can be maintained.

  1. URGENT PHASE: first, the objective should be to provide relief concerning the symptoms and pain management. If the patient is presenting with pain or swelling, antibiotics and analgesics should be prescribed.
  2. CONTROL PHASE: remove the etiological factors and eliminate potential causes of disease.
  3. RE-EVALUATE and follow home care and reinforce motivation.
  4. The DEFINITIVE PHASE includes endodontic, periodontal, or orthodontic treatment to prevent and eliminate the cause of cavities.
  5. RE CARE AND REASSESSMENT of the patient and recall the patient for routine follow-up.

5 Treatment Options to Consider

1. Amalgam Restorations

It is a metallic restoration composed of silver-tin-copper mixed and placed in the prepared tooth form and contoured, complying with resistance and retention; however, they are subjected to chemical corrosion and may discolor over time.

Improper dispensing of mercury may cause mercury toxicity. Hence it should be handled with care.

2. Composite Restoration

Popularly used composite restorations are the most preferred type of restoration. The tooth-colored restoration works on the acid-etch technique and has strong bonds to enamel and dentine to simplify the therapeutic techniques.

The cavity preparation can be kept as conservative as possible. Several modifications of the composites are available such as packable composite restorations, microfilm, flowable, nanofiller, and hybrid.

3. Glass Ionomer or Gic Restorations

This is one among the cement which is used extensively and in atraumatic restorative procedures due to its ease of use and excellent fluoride-releasing properties. It consists of ion-cross-linked polymer matrices surrounding the glass-reinforced filler material.

It comes in a powder and liquid form, dispensed on a mixing pad and placed in the prepared cavity.

Various modifications have been done to enhance the bond strength and properties.

Miracle mix is mixed in formulation to produce amalgam substitute. Glass ionomer restorations seem to work well for high caries risk situations.

4. Gold Restorations

Pure gold has been used in dentistry for several years now, and the gold is used in the form of matt gold, gold foil pellets. Principles of manipulation of direct gold include degassing and annealing.

The gold foil is compacted by hand, electro, or pneumatic mallet, compressed in a stepping motion into the oral cavity on prepared tooth structure. But this can not be used in cavities with very large tooth chambers, periodontally weekend teeth, or disabled patients who cannot sit for long procedures.

Root canal-treated teeth can not be restored with gold restorations.

5. RCT Or Root Canal Treatment

This involves cleaning and shaping the root canal, obturation of the roots, and finally placing a crown.

What Can Be Done to Maintain Oral Hygiene?

Mechanical measures for caries control includes

  • TOOTH BRUSHING: to reduce the number of microorganisms and bacteria, it is advised to brush twice daily or brush teeth after consuming sticky food and food rich in carbs.
  • MOUTH RINSING: using mouth wash dislodges debris and food.
  • FLOSSING: it is advised to use floss after brushing the teeth as it helps the fluorinated toothpaste reach the interdental spaces and tight proximal contacts.
  • ORAL IRRIGATORS: used in the management of gingival infections and gum line improvement.
  • CHEWING GUM: this can prevent dental caries by mechanical cleansing action.

Role of Dietary Control

A well-balanced diet is very important for the oral and overall health of the human body. High in fat, low in carbohydrates, and free from sugar, have low caries activity. Phosphate-rich diets are said to cause a significant reduction in the incidence of caries.

Factors Increasing Risk For Caries Are:

  1. high level of demineralization
  2. history with recurrent caries
  3. poor quality restorations and reinfection in RC treated tooth
  4. poor oral hygiene
  5. inadequate fluoride exposure
  6. prolonged nursing
  7. frequent high sucrose content
  8. xerostomia
  9. genetic abnormalities
  10. chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  11. eating disorders
  12. drug abuse
  13. alcohol abuse
  14. irregular dental care.

Dental Caries in Toddlers and Children

Children with prolonged use of feeders and milk formulae are said to develop dental caries. Pacifiers are used to prevent nursing bottle caries.

The most commonly affected teeth are anterior teeth and mandibular first permanent molar. It results in teeth chipping and brownish discoloration, which may affect the development and eruption of the permanent dentition.

A high frenal attachment can also cause caries in the anterior tooth region; other factors like mouth breathing also play a role.

How to prevent nursing bottle caries?

  1. Avoid giving bottle feeders to children when they fall asleep, brushing the child’s teeth regularly
  2. discontinuing bottle feeding after the age of 15 months.
  3. Baby teeth are sensitive to radiation, so avoid excess radiation.
  4. If they experience tooth sensitivity, book an appointment with the pediatrician.
  5. Cavities develop in interproximal areas due to debris or food deposits to make sure to rinse the oral cavity with water after meals.

Complications of Cavity

The untreated cavity can result in abscess formation and may lead to periodontal destruction and loosening of teeth may cause space infections and sinus tract opening and pus formation, TMJ abnormalities, and reduced mouth opening

Using hard toothbrushes may cause wasting diseases like attrition, abrasion, and erosion.

Who are at risk?

  • patients with diabetes
  • hypertension
  • bulimia
  • alcoholism and smoking
  • systemic diseases
  • physically disabled patients
  • old age
  • pregnancy and lactation
Some home remedies include:
  • oil pulling
  • using clove or clove oil in the area of pain
  • brushing teeth
  • saltwater gargling
  • chewing sugar-free gum

If the tooth sensitivity increases after the restoration, it is due to the irritation at the nerve endings or inflammation caused due to filling.

If the sensitivity or pain doesn’t go away after a while, contact your dentist for the needful.

Final thoughts

If dental problems and cavities are treated on time, the tooth structure can be preserved, and the patient can be guided towards more preventive measures.

To reduce the risk of pain and infections, necessary steps should be taken to fill the cavities on time with composites and glass ionomer. In the case of swelling, fever, and increased pain and infection, contact your nearby dentist to discuss the treatment plan.

I hope now you know what does a cavity look like, and all the possible treatment options.


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