No one wants to get a cavity. It’s why we brush our teeth and floss. Not all cavities are the same, though. Different types of cavities develop on different parts of our teeth. Let’s talk about what these are and how you get them.
What Is a Cavity?
A cavity is what we call a hole in the surface of a tooth. The hole can be small or large, depending on how much time it’s had to form. Cavities develop when the bacteria living in your mouth, which we call plaque, digests the sugars in your food and produces acid that eats away at your tooth enamel. All types of cavities are all holes that develop in tooth enamel. The difference between them is where they form on the tooth.
3 Types of Cavities
There are three main types of cavities. They are:
Root cavities – This type of cavity forms on the surface of a tooth’s roots down below where the gum line should be. It’s more common in older people who have receding gums that have exposed the roots of their teeth to bacteria. Anyone with gum disease is at greater risk to develop root cavities.
The roots of your teeth do not have as much of a protective enamel layer as the upper parts, so if they are exposed, they can develop tooth decay faster. This is why it’s important to detect root cavities early when they can still be filled, to avoid the necessity of a root canal and/or crown.
Pit and fissure cavities – These are cavities that form in the pits of your teeth, on the chewing surface. They occur most often on rear molar teeth which have crevices where food can get stuck and are harder to reach with a toothbrush. Dentists sometimes recommend that kids’ teeth be treated with sealants which create a layer that protects teeth from pit cavities when they are more prone to tooth decay.
Brushing regularly can protect teeth from developing pit and fissure cavities. Once they have formed, however, they will need to be repaired with fillings. Larger cavities may need more advanced treatments if the damage is too great.
Smooth-surface cavities – As the name implies, this type of cavity forms on the sides of the tooth: the flat, smooth exterior. This part of the tooth has protective enamel, and it’s harder for plaque to get a footing there, so they form more slowly than the other types of cavities and are less common. Because they can often be caught early on, they can be treated with less invasive dental interventions, including fluoride treatments.
Smooth-surface cavities can form in between teeth too. These are called interproximal cavities. In order to detect these cavities, dentists use x-rays.
The simplest way to avoid all three types of cavities is to practice good oral hygiene, including regular brushing and flossing. Periodic cleanings will allow your dentist to detect any cavities when they are still small and easily treatable. According to the CDC, 9 out of 10 Americans have some sort of tooth decay, so it’s important to go to your dental checkups even if you think nothing is wrong. The sooner you find and treat a cavity, the better and more affordable your treatment options will be.