People are usually aware of cavities that can form on a tooth’s surface, but what about those between teeth? You might think of them as just “dentist speak,” if you don’t suffer from them yourself. But they’re something that many people experience and knowing the causes and treatments will help you manage your own condition better.
The Causes Gaps in teeth are often filled with dental fillings, although they cannot be used for bleaching or other cosmetic purposes. These areas are known to dentists as Class II restorations. This means there is an opening in the enamel (the hard substance covering the tooth) where food particles can become trapped cause decay, so they need to be filled. The holes are generally not noticeable to the naked eye, because they are in between two teeth.
It is a well-known fact that cavities are more likely to occur between teeth and on chewing surfaces – in both children and adults. These types of cavities are so common that even dental professionals have a name for them – they refer to them as “coronal cavities” or “interproximal cavities”. Like other forms of cavities, they always start as very small holes through the enamel that grow into much bigger cavities. If left unaddressed, cavities and tooth decay between teeth can lead to pain, chewing problems, broken teeth, tooth abscess, tooth loss, malocclusions, and other complications.
This article outlines causes and effective treatments for cavities between teeth so you can be in the know.
What Causes Cavities between Teeth?
Like other types of cavities and tooth decay, cavities between teeth are caused by a combination of several factors, including bacteria build-up in your mouth, eating sugary foods and sipping sugary drinks, frequent snacking, and not brushing your teeth properly. Though cavities can occur anywhere that bacteria can get to, the crevice between teeth and the surfaces between the teeth are usually more susceptible to this condition. The fissures in your molars and the deep grooves on the back of your front teeth are also prone to cavities, but not as much as the clefts between teeth are.
The obvious reason why the enamel surfaces between teeth are more prone to cavities is that food particles easily get trapped in the crevices between teeth. When food particles collect and accumulate between the teeth, plaque is formed leading to the onset of cavities. This dental plaque consists of a sticky, colorless film of bacteria and sugars that form on the enamel surfaces between teeth. As the sugars and bacteria in the film react, it releases acids that attack the teeth. The acids percolate and remove minerals from the outer enamel in the crevices between the teeth. This removal of minerals causes the erosion of the enamel resulting in tiny openings or holes – which form the first stage of cavities. Once the outer enamel is eaten away, the bacteria and acid are able to reach the inner layers of the teeth – dentin and pulp. These inner layers are softer and less resistant to acid and because of this the tooth decay often progresses more quickly when the outer enamel is depleted.
Although anyone can get cavities between teeth, there are a number of factors that increase the risk. These risk factors can be considered to be the causes of tooth decay that affects the cracks between teeth.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that small gaps or spaces between teeth as well as chips and cracks in between teeth encourage cavities. But big gaps are less likely to become affected by tooth decay. This is simply because small gaps and chips provide a perfect hiding place for bacteria and are more likely to have food particles trapped in them.
The main cause of cavities is certain foods and drinks. Sugar is the prime cause of cavities; but any foods (carbohydrates and even fruits) and drinks that cling to the teeth can cause tooth decay. Sugar, milk, soda, ice cream, cereal, chips, candy, honey, dried fruit, cake and other baked goods are all known to trigger tooth decay. Frequent snacking on these food items or continual sipping of sugary and acidic drinks provides mouth bacteria with the continuous supply of fuel it needs to produce acids that attack the enamel causing decay.
Poor oral and dental hygiene is another major cause of cavities between teeth. Conventional toothbrushes are typically designed to clean the easily accessible, visible tooth surfaces. This, as you already know, is never enough. The enamel surfaces between teeth are often left untouched by the ordinary toothbrush. This leaves food materials in the cracks and spaces between teeth, triggering decay.
As well as poor dental hygiene, a dry mouth, worn fillings or dental devices, failure to get enough fluoride and certain medical conditions may encourage plaque formation and cause this condition.
What Are The Effective Treatments For Cavities Between Teeth?
Cavities between teeth are usually diagnosed through a comprehensive dental exam that often includes visual inspection and X-rays. The X-ray allows the dentist to accurately assess the extent of the cavity, particularly the depth and size. Once the cavity has been diagnosed, the treatment will be carried out depending on how bad the condition is.
If the cavity is just getting started or has only extended halfway into the outer enamel, a fluoride treatment may be used to help restore it. This fluoride treatment typically involves re-calcifying the “incipient” cavities with a fluoride gel.
If the cavity has already progressed penetrating deeper into the tooth’s enamel, a filling is usually the right treatment. The filling can be a tooth-colored composite resin, porcelain or a combination of several materials, and helps prevent more decay or worsening problems in the affected area.
If the cavity has remained untreated for some time and has already reached the inner layers of the tooth, more extensive dentistry is often required. This can be in the form of a crown, root canal or tooth extraction procedure.
Crowns are usually the preferred treatment in cases of extensive tooth decay or weakened teeth. They may be made of resin, porcelain, gold or porcelain fused to metal or other material.
A root canal treatment may need to be performed in cases where the decay has already reached the inner pulp material of the tooth. This procedure involves the removal of the infected or diseased tooth pulp in order to alleviate pain, reduce swelling and eliminate the irritation caused by the condition. Once the diseased pulp is removed, a filling or crown may be installed to prevent further problems.
But if the tooth is infected or has decayed so extensively, there may be no other option but to have it removed.
How to Prevent Cavities between Teeth
To prevent these types of cavities and others, you need to manage the risk factors that cause this condition. Start by ensuring you maintain good oral and dental hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day; and, while at it, try to clean those spaces between teeth and other hard-to-reach areas. To remove plaque from between teeth, be sure to floss your teeth daily. Eating a well-balanced diet that limits starchy or sugary goods as well as implementing preventative dental care that includes regular checkups will also come in handy when trying to avoid these types of cavities and others.