In identifying tooth decay, dentists will ask about pain or sensitivity in the gums or teeth, and will perform a full oral exam to check for any soft areas. Dental X-rays are also typically used to help in diagnosing cavities.
Once a cavity is diagnosed the type will be specified as well. The types of cavities are pit and fissures, surface cavity, pit and fissure, and cavity of the root.
Having regular dental exams is an important part of good oral health, and can help not only in diagnosing cavities, but in detecting other dental issues. With regular exams, early stages of tooth decay can be detected and reversed, and will help with prevention of further decay as well. If cavities are treated before pain is experienced, need for treatment can be minimized. Which treatment is needed will be in accordance with the type and intensity of the cavity, and other related conditions. Typical treatments for cavities include fluoride treatments, fillings, crowns, root canals, and sometimes extraction.
- Fluoride Treatments: Fluoride treatments are used to help restore and revive enamel. These treatments are used only in the very first stages of cavities as they are presenting. Professional fluoride treatments are advised because they contain more fluoride than mouth rinses and toothpaste. Fluoride treatments are typically foam, gel, varnish, or liquid and are usually applied by using small trays that easily fit around the teeth.
- Fillings: Fillings are the most common treatment for cavities if decay has progressed beyond initial stages. They can be made from various materials including porcelain, composite resins, or a combination known as dental amalgam.
- Crowns: Crowns are custom fit coverings that can replace the natural crown of a tooth. They are used in the case of significant decay, or if a tooth has become significantly weaken. There are several materials used to make crowns including porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, gold, or resin.
- Root Canals: Root canals are used when decay is advanced and is found in a tooth’s pulp. Root canals can save and retain the damaged and/or infected tooth, and to save the tooth from extraction. To clear infection medication is sometimes injected in to a root canal, followed by a filling for pulp replacement.
- Extractions: Tooth extractions are a last resort as a treatment for cavities, but are used when decay has damaged a tooth past the point of repair. If a tooth gets pulled, a gap will remain, which will allow for other nearby teeth to shift. Often an implant or bridge will be recommended to replace the missing tooth.
A dentist appointment should be made if any pain or sensitivity in the mouth or teeth is experienced. For at-home treatment of pain before the appointment warm water can be used to brush the teeth, as well as the use of sensitivity-specific toothpaste. It’s also a good idea to avoid beverages and foods that are cold or hot. An over-the-counter pain medication can help in some cases, as well as over-the counter anesthetics that are for use with tooth/gum sensitivity or pain. Consult with the dentist’s office or pharmacy if you have any questions.