Monday, December 3, 2012

What Is A Cavity

Everyone has heard of a cavity, but what exactly is a cavity?

An obvious cavity

As the word implies, a cavity is simply a cavitation, a hole, a break in the continuity of the tooth surface. Many times however, there is no obvious cavitation at all.

Dentists prefer to use the term caries rather than cavities. Caries simply refers to the decay process. Caries is decayed tooth structure and the bacteria associated with the process.

The most common sites for caries
We all know what a hole is, so in obvious cases, it is easy for anyone to determine that a cavity has formed. The most common area where caries form are on the deep pits and fissures of the chewing surfaces. The next most common areas are the surfaces in between the teeth followed by the root surfaces. The reason why this is the case is that these areas are more difficult to remove plaque (bacteria and debris) from, than from the smooth and easier to access surfaces.

Diagnodent Caries Detector

Caries without cavitation

In some cases, there is no obvious cavitation. We we often see a discolored area on these surfaces that may appear to be just a stain. However, when caries encroaches past the enamel layer and into the dentin, the caries will spread into a much larger area. Many dentist have a laser instrument that allows us to determine if there are carious lesions below the stains. The earlier we catch these lesions, the better. I often explain it this way: "Change your oil, or change your engine, or change your car or don't drive at all". The further caries progresses, the more damage there is to the tooth making treatment much less predictable, more extensive and more expensive.

Prevention is obviously preferrable to treatment. To minimize caries, there two things that must be kept in mind: Good oral hygiene and a diet with minimal sugars.

Caries resulting from poor hygiene

Baby bottle caries

If you have suspicious staining on your teeth, have them evaluated and treated if necessary at the earliest stages possible.

Dr. Cisneros maintains a practice in Freeburg and Columbia, IL. Both are in the Greater St Louis, MO area. For more information on a wide variety of subjects, please visit

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