One of the most common dental issues in patients of all ages is the development of cavities or tooth decay. Causes for this vary, but the most common are bacteria, sugary drinks or foods, certain health conditions, and the lack of brushing or flossing. You may experience symptoms such as pain or sensitivity or have no idea that one is forming until you visit your dentist for a bi-annual cleaning and exam.
A cavity essentially is a damaged section of tooth enamel that shows up as tiny holes or openings. If left untreated, these openings can grow larger and begin to affect the underlayers in your tooth. As a result, you may experience an increasingly painful toothache, swelling, and infection, or even eventual tooth loss.
One of the best-proven ways to keep cavities away is by practicing good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing daily accompanied by regularly scheduled visits with your Columbus, OH dentist can help keep your dental health at its best. And when you experience any symptom of a cavity forming, your dentist will know how to detect it. Such detection can be confirmed in a few different ways, including the following.
Visual Inspection and Oral Exam
The first step a dentist will take is to visually inspect your teeth, gums, and the soft tissue of your mouth. Your dentist is looking for any discoloration or damage to your tooth’s enamel. In some instances, cavities can be seen right away. Usually, this occurs with larger cavities in prominent areas.
If no evidence of a cavity is identified, or if your dentist suspects a certain tooth or area may be affected, the next method to detect a cavity is by using a dental explorer or probe. This probe is maneuvered around your teeth and specifically into the crevices between teeth. Any soft spots or sensitivity found to indicate a cavity is most likely present. At this point, the severity of the cavity is difficult to determine, so the next steps of detection may be taken.
Many times, a cavity is not detectable by a visual inspection or probing exam alone. The next step a dentist may take is the snapping of dental x-rays. A cavity in an x-ray appears as a darker shadow or spot on a tooth, while a regular filling will be brighter.
Dental x-rays, a method that has been around for years, help to remove any guesswork on the part of the dentist. Images of the inner and outer tooth are captured, and this helps your dentist discover the cavity and determine how severe it is. Dental x-rays are also a good way to determine when a cavity exists between teeth.
Typically, your dentist will obtain bitewing x-rays, where a small x-ray film is inserted between your teeth, and you bite down, holding it in place. An x-ray image is created, producing an image of that particular part of your mouth. These images include your teeth, soft tissues of the mouth, and your jaw, providing your dentist with information on the overall health of your teeth. Hidden structures, such as wisdom teeth and any bone loss, may also be revealed.
For identifying cavities deep in your back molars are other difficult-to-access areas, some dentists may use a Dental Cone Beam CT. The use of this device can provide more thorough x-rays of your jaw, teeth, and overall facial structure, creating a three-dimensional head image for further evaluation.
Laser Cavity Detection
Cavities can start out as microscopic defects under the tooth’s tough enamel. Oral exams and x-rays can’t always diagnose decay on the subsurface level of your tooth. For this, your dentist may turn to the use of a laser cavity detection device.
With this device, lightwave refraction is used. A wand scans the surface of your teeth within seconds. For areas where you have healthy teeth enamel, the light will pass through easily. If decay is present, the light will bounce or reflect back. In turn, the exact location, size, and shape of the cavity can be determined. Your dentist will also see how large and deep the cavity is.
More accurate than x-rays, the laser cavity detection device is completely safe. It can provide a wider, more exact view of the cavity, helping the dentist determine the best treatment options going forward.
Your dentist may only need to use one of these cavity detection methods or a combination of them to obtain the most information possible. From there, together you can discuss whether a filling will suffice or if you need to consider other options such as replacing the damaged tooth with a crown or other measures.
Contact Lifetime Dental Health for all Your Dental Needs
The earlier a cavity is caught, the better. If you are currently suffering from any of the symptoms of a cavity, including toothache or sensitivity, contact our office at 614-321-1887 to schedule an appointment. If you haven’t had your bi-annual cleaning and exam, we can schedule that also. Our compassionate, professional staff look forward to helping with whatever dental needs you may have now or in the future.