A hole in a tooth is also referred to as a cavity, caries or tooth decay.
This is the damage that happens when the bacteria in your mouth produces acids that dissolve the hard tooth structure. If it is not treated on time, it can lead to severe pain, infection, and eventual loss of the tooth.
The essence of this article is to discuss the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of holes in the teeth.
Causes of Hole In Tooth
As long as you have teeth in your mouth, you can get a hole in them. They are most commonly seen in young children, teenagers, and older adults.
1. Excess Sugar Consumption
This is the most common cause of a hole in the tooth. When you consume sugary foods and drinks, the bacteria that live in the mouth feed on the sugar and produce acid. This acid then dissolves the tooth structure causing a hole.
2. Poor Oral Hygiene Practices
Not brushing your teeth twice daily can cause the build-up of plaque which is a white sticky film of bacteria on the teeth surface. This build-up makes the teeth prone to having holes. Also, not brushing regularly after eating sugar is another reason for having a hole in the tooth. Using a fluoride-containing toothpaste also strengthens the teeth, preventing them from getting holes.
3. Inadequate Saliva Production
Saliva helps in cleansing the mouth so when enough saliva is not produced, it leads to a condition called xerostomia or dry mouth. This can be caused by taking certain medications, Sjogren’s syndrome or head and neck radiation due to cancer. This inadequate saliva production can lead to the formation of holes in the teeth.
4. Tobacco Use
Using tobacco either by smoking cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or other tobacco products reduces the amount of oxygen in the mouth. This leads to dry mouth which in turn causes cavity formation.
5. Medical Conditions
Medical conditions like diabetes mellitus that is not properly controlled lead to a high level of glucose in the saliva which helps bacteria thrive. Other conditions like GERD can cause holes in the teeth as a result of the backflow of acid from the stomach to the mouth. An eating disorder known as bulimia nervosa (bulimia), where the stomach acid from frequent vomiting wears out the teeth, can also contribute to a hole formation.
Factors That Can Affect The Development of A Hole In A Tooth
a) A Susceptible Tooth surface
Holes occur more on the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars, smooth surfaces of the sides of the teeth and less commonly on the cutting surfaces of the incisors. A hole can also develop along the margins of tooth fillings.
Whenever you eat sugary foods or food rich in carbohydrate, the bacteria in your mouth feed on the food producing acid. This acid remains in your mouth for at least 30 minutes and your teeth are vulnerable to acid damage within this time.
How Does A Hole In The Tooth Progress?
The tooth is made up of three layers – the enamel, the dentin, and the pulp. A hole starts at the enamel which is the outermost layer. At this stage, there is usually no pain and if the hole is treated on time, it does not progress. If not treated, it progresses to the middle layer – the dentin. And if this is still not treated, it moves to the pulp which is the innermost layer.
The pulp houses blood vessels and nerves so when the decay spreads to the pulp, it causes intense pain. Advanced cases can cause pus accumulation at the root leading to abscess formation.
Symptoms Of A Hole In The Tooth
The symptoms of a hole in a tooth are usually dependent on the extent of the damage. They include –
- Black spot or stain on the tooth. This is usually the earliest sign of a hole in the tooth.
- Sensitivity with the intake of hot, cold or sweet foods. The sensitivity can be described as a shocking, sharp pain which subsides after a few seconds or minutes.
- Food Packing
- Throbbing toothache which signifies that the hole has progressed.
- No symptoms at all
The treatment of a hole in the tooth is dependent on the symptoms or progression. A visit to the dentist is important as soon as you notice any symptoms. Dental x-rays are taken by your dentist to assess the progression of the hole and aid proper treatment planning.
A hole that is at the enamel can be treated by your dentist filling the tooth with a tooth filling material such as composite or glass ionomer cement(GIC), which are tooth-colored, or a silver-colored amalgam.
Fluoride therapy and brushing your teeth regularly with a fluoride-containing toothpaste can also help to reverse or arrest early signs of tooth decay.
If the hole has progressed to the dentin, a tooth filling can also be done. A dental crown or a cap is placed on the tooth if a large amount of the tooth has been destroyed. These crowns are made from porcelain or metal and help to strengthen the tooth.
If the hole is in the pulp, a root canal treatment will be performed by your dentist. This treatment involves removing the infected pulp and filling it with a root filling material. After this procedure, the tooth becomes brittle and needs to be crowned so it does not break while chewing. Antibiotics and analgesics also need to be prescribed for the associated pain and infection in cases of abscess formation.
If the tooth cannot be saved or you cannot afford a root canal treatment, extraction of the tooth will be recommended.
Frequent sips of water or saliva substitutes can help to reduce dry mouth. Other medical causes of dry mouth should also be reviewed appropriately by a physician. Medical conditions that can make you prone to having holes in the teeth like GERD and bulimia should also be co-managed by a physician.
Preventing a hole in your tooth usually starts at home by taking proper care of your teeth. These tips are important to prevent cavities.
1) Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste to brush your teeth as this can help stop and arrest tooth decay.
2) Make sure you brush your teeth at least twice a day – in the morning and before bed. Also, try brushing your teeth after each meal or rinse your mouth with water or chew sugar-free gum to help clean your teeth and get rid of food stuck in your teeth.
3) Floss your teeth daily to remove food particles in between your teeth.
4) Visit your dentist at least twice a year for routine checks. A cavity can be seen early enough and treated on time.
5) A dental sealant can also be placed on the chewing surfaces of your teeth. This is a material that fills the teeth to prevent food stagnation. This, in turn, prevents tooth decay.
6) Reduce your frequency of consuming snacks rich in carbohydrate, candy, sticky foods, and drinks. If you take them, rinse your mouth with water and chew sugar-free gum.
A hole in your tooth is not normal and needs to be checked out by your dentist immediately. Proper oral hygiene practices and regular dental visits are some of the ways these holes can be prevented from occurring or getting worse.
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