What are dental caries?

Dental caries, often called cavities, are erosions of the surface of the tooth caused by the combined effects of bacteria, acids, plaque and tartar. Dental caries are common in both children and adults, and they occur most often as a result of poor dental hygiene. Dental caries are usually painless at first, but they may become painful if they spread to the nerve or root of a tooth. Left untreated, dental caries can progress to a tooth abscess, which is a more painful and potentially serious condition.

Dental Problems Spotlight

Dental caries are common, but they can often be prevented by practicing good dental hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing. Dental caries usually do not require emergency medical care unless they become painful, do not respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, or progress to a tooth abscess. Treatment includes removing the decayed material with a drill and filling in the resulting hole with a stable dental material.

Seek prompt medical care if you suspect you have dental caries, if you have a toothache lasting more than a few days, or if your tooth pain cannot be controlled by over-the-counter pain relievers.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of dental caries?

Generally, you will not experience any serious symptoms from dental caries. When symptoms are present, they may include toothache or sensitivity to hot or cold foods and beverages.... Read more about dental cariessymptoms

CAUSES

What causes dental caries?

Dental caries are caused by bacteria and damaging substances, such as acid, that come into contact with your teeth. After you eat, normal bacteria in your mouth combine with food remnants and acids to create a sticky film called plaque. If you do not remove plaque regularly by flossing and brushing, it can build up or harden into a substance known as tartar. Plaque and tartar, in addition to bacteria and acids, can degrade the enamel on your tooth, leading to holes in the enamel called dental caries, or cavities. Dental caries usually begin as small, shallow holes; left untreated,... Read more about dental cariescauses

TREATMENTS

How are dental caries treated?

Prompt treatment of dental caries by your dentist is important in preventing further damage to your tooth or an infection. A simple dental examination can identify dental caries, and an X-ray may help your dentist to determine the extent of the caries.... Read more about dental cariestreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health