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Q: What is a cavity? Does it hurt when you have one?

Posted October 22, 2014 in Advice Column, Pleasant Hill

A: Cavities, or tooth decay, are the destruction of your tooth enamel, the hard, outer layer of your teeth. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. This is when cavities can form.

Ways to help prevent tooth decay:
• Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
• Clean between your teeth daily with floss.
• Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking, especially on sugary foods.
• Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts to protect them from decay.
• Visit your dentist regularly for a professional cleaning and oral examination.

Cavities can cause sensitivity if enough of the underlying tooth is exposed to the foods and liquids we consume. Generally, if you have a small to medium-sized cavity you will not know until the dentist does an examination and radiographs. If you have a toothache with severe pain, this means the cavity has grown large enough to infect the nerve of the tooth, resulting in extreme pain and/or swelling. If you have pain with a tooth, whether it is mild or severe, call a dentist to determine the cause.

Information provided by Dr. Nicole Brummel, DDS, Altoona Smiles, 950 28th Ave. S.W., Altoona, 515-200-1310.

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