A cavity is a hole in a tooth that is caused by tooth decay. Tooth decay can happen as a result of bacteria in the mouth and a diet high in starch and sugar. Small cavities may only be detected by a dentist, whereas larger cavities can cause a toothache, sensitivity, or swelling of the gum. A cavity needs to be treated in order to maintain the overall function and health of the tooth.
The dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth, usually with a drill. Then the dentist will clean the affected part of the tooth. Next, the hole in the tooth will be filled with a material to restore the tooth. There are a variety of materials that can be used to fill a cavity. These include:
- composite resin (tooth-colored)
The material that is used will be based on the patient's needs. The dentist will take into consideration the size and location of the cavity, and whether the patient has an allergy to a certain material. Cost is also a consideration.
Inlays and Onlays
When the tooth decay is too extensive for a simple filling, the dentist may consider using an inlay or onlay to restore the tooth.
An inlay fits inside the top of the tooth. An onlay fits over the top of the tooth encompassing at least one of the tooth's cusps. These are different from a simple filling in that the material that is used to fill the cavity is molded outside of the mouth and then bonded to the tooth. With a simple filling, the restorative material is applied directly to the tooth.
If the tooth has severe decay and cannot be restored with a simple filling, inlay, or onlay, then a crown may be required. A crown is a prosthetic tooth that completely covers the tooth to the gum line. A crown strengthens the natural tooth underneath, prevents further damage of the tooth, and keeps the tooth functioning normally. There are a variety of materials that can be used to make a crown, but generally porcelain is the preferred material.
If the root or the pulp (soft middle part of the tooth) is severely diseased or damaged, then a root canal may be in order. In a root canal, a small hole is drilled into the tooth and the pulp and the diseased part of the tooth is removed. The tooth is cleaned and disinfected and then filled and sealed. Next, the tooth will be restored with a crown or a filling.