Many people think tooth decay and cavities are the same things. Well, the two conditions are related as cavities are a result of tooth decay. But they are not the same thing, so we shouldn’t use the words interchangeably. So what exactly is tooth decay and what is a cavity? How can you recognize, prevent, and treat the conditions? Keep reading to learn more about teeth decay vs cavity.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the progressive corrosion of the layers of a tooth. It occurs when harmful bacteria in the mouth produce corrosive acids while digesting sugary or starchy foods. The acids, food particles, and bacteria combine to form a biofilm coating on the teeth called plaque. If you have ever felt a fuzzy sensation when you run your tongue over your teeth, then you know what plaque feels like.
Daily brushing and flossing easily get rid of the plaque that forms daily in our mouths. But if you have poor oral hygiene, the plaque will form into a hard-to-remove substance called tartar. Additionally, the acids in the plaque will start corroding the enamel of our teeth. This is the early stage of tooth decay. If your oral hygiene doesn’t improve the tooth decay will go beyond the enamel layer to the dentin and finally the pulp layer. Eventually, untreated tooth decay may cause tooth loss.
What is Cavity?
A cavity is a hole in the tooth that occurs because of untreated tooth decay. When our teeth are in contact with plaque acids for too long, the enamel loses some of its minerals. White flecks appear on the teeth in place of the lost minerals. This is the first sign of tooth decay. At this point, you can reverse the problem by improving your oral hygiene. Additionally, you can remineralize the teeth by brushing with fluoride toothpaste, using a fluoride oral rinse, or drinking tap water.
If your tooth decay goes unchecked after the first warning sign, the plaque acids continue to erode your enamel. Eventually, holes or openings will develop on the surface of the teeth. These are cavities. So, we can say that a cavity is a symptom of the second stage of tooth decay.
Prevention and Treatment of Tooth Decay vs Cavity
You can prevent both tooth decay and cavities by brushing and flossing your teeth daily and avoiding sugary and starchy foods and drinks. Brushing your teeth after every meal or at least every morning and evening gets rid of plaque. But brushing alone is not enough. Some foods get stuck between and on the corners of our teeth so we must floss once a day to get rid of them. Flossing in the evening after your last meal and before brushing your teeth gets rid of the most amount of plaque.
Those that are prone to plaque and cavities are also better off avoiding sugary food and drinks as well as starchy foods. Doing so keeps tooth decay and cavities at bay but may also prevent other illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Another good way to prevent cavities, especially on the molars and premolars is to get dental sealants.
If you do get a cavity, the best option is to visit a dentist as soon as possible. Dentists have different treatment options that they may follow depending on the severity of the cavity. They can reverse a cavity if it’s in its early stages through fluoride treatments. Fully developed cavities are treated with dental fillings, crowns, and root canals.
In case cavities aren’t treated tooth decay can progress to painful infections and tooth abscesses. In these later stages, the only treatment option left may be tooth extraction.
Final Word on Tooth Decay vs Cavity
Tooth decay is the progressive destruction of a tooth, layer by layer, from the enamel to the pulp. Cavities are one of the sure symptoms of tooth decay. You can prevent tooth decay and cavities by following a proper oral hygiene routine and avoiding sugary and starchy foods.
Brushing your teeth with a fluoride gel and using a fluoride mouth rinse can also remineralize your teeth. This reduces your chances of getting cavities. It is also important to visit your dentist once or twice a year for checkups and routine cleaning. The dentist will be able to recognize and reverse early signs of tooth decay.