Most people are aware of cavities, but you may be unsure what your dentist means if they say you have caries. The following guide can help you better understand
Caries vs. Cavities
Although you may hear the words caries and cavities used interchangeably, they are different. Both are signs of decay, which can be a result of genetic factors but are more likely caused by environmental factors and habits. Poor dental hygiene, consuming a lot of sugar, and plaque buildup lead to their formation.
Caries are the precursor to a cavity. In the early stages of decay, caries begin to form on the surface of the enamel. These are weakened areas that harbor bacteria. They may be visible as small white or discolored spots, but they are often invisible because they are hidden beneath a layer of plaque buildup. Whereas caries are mainly on the surface of the enamel, a cavity extends below the surface. Cavities are active sites where decay has already begun to eat into the tooth.
Problems with Caries
The primary concern with dental caries is that they will eventually develop into cavities. How quickly this happens depends on several factors, including overall dental health, hygiene habits, and environmental factors. Once a cavity begins to develop, the only option left is drilling and having the cavity filled before it reaches the inner tooth and causes infection.
There is also a cosmetic factor to dental caries. Even in the event that they develop slowly so that decay isn't an immediate concern, the caries themselves are usually discolored and can give teeth a mottled, unattractive appearance.
Prevention and Solutions
Caries are prevented in the same way as full cavities — through basic hygiene. Daily brushing and flossing are the key to reducing the formation of caries. Diet also has an impact. Avoid sticky, sugary, and high acid foods and drinks. If you do partake, rinse your mouth out with water or brush afterward so the residue isn't left on the teeth.
A professional cleaning every six months will also reduce the formation of caries and prevent existing caries from turning into cavities. The good news is that caries can often go away on their own if they are caught early enough that decay hasn't yet begun to impact the enamel. Your dentist may have further recommendations, such as for special topical treatments or mouthwashes, to further help the caries recover.
Contact a dental service in your area if you have any concerns.