What is a cavity?
A cavity is the result of the demineralization of tooth structure. It is typically what your dentist is referring to when they are discussing caries.
Enamel makes up the hard, durable outer surface of a tooth. Enamel gives our teeth shape. Dentin is the next layer of tooth structure beneath the enamel. Dentin is a porous layer supporting the enamel and provides our teeth with colour and strength. Within the dentin lies the pulp (or nerve) of the tooth. Another substance, called cementum, surrounds the roots of our teeth and typically is hidden under the bone and gums that surround our teeth.
Plaque bacteria, if left unattended for too long, will use the sugars in our diet to produce acid that is strong enough to penetrate through the crystalline enamel structure of our teeth. The initial stages of this breakdown is called demineralization. As this demineralization process continues, caries (cavities) form. Once the acid makes its way to the dentin it will affect the dentinal tubules and cause an inflammatory response from vital pulp tissue which may result in tooth pain.
Prevention of caries is one of the main goals of good diet and sound oral hygiene. Caries are diagnosed by your dentist using visual and radiographic cues. It is recommended to treat carious lesions (cavities) in the early stages to prevent both severe tooth destruction and potential tooth pain; thus stressing the importance of regular dental exams.
Dr. Daniel Nosyk, B Sc. D.M.D.