This Dental MythBuster is slightly unfair, as it relies upon the slang term cavity that has been used for decades. However, it is still a myth, and like all dental myths, this myth needs to be identified and busted!
Let’s start by looking at a photo:
If you look at the above photo, everyone would agree that something is not right. The brown/grey areas where the teeth touch one another look awfully suspicious. When I informed this patient that she needed fillings with those teeth, she looked at me perplexed and said “Why… I can’t feel any cavities there?!?”
I hear this dental myth about once per week in my office. Once I show either an x-ray or photo of the cavity, they understand immediately. Wouldn’t you if you saw the above photo?
Cavities, Caries, and Decay
Part of the reason why this dental myth exists is because there is some confusion and misuse of various dental terms. And we dentists are part of the problem! Let’s look at definitions:
Dental Caries – also known as dental decay, this is an infectious disease leading to the progressive destruction of tooth structure. This is seen in the photo above.
Dental Cavities – a carious lesion or hole in a tooth. Although this term is used quite often, it is generally considered to be a slang term.
So, what does an actual dental cavity look like? See below:
In the above photo, you can see actual holes in the teeth. These are areas of dental decay that have progressed to the point where the tooth surface actually collapsed in, creating a cavity. This patient was actually able to feel and see the cavities.
Another Dental Myth Goes Down
So far, we’ve seen two photos: one showing decay without holes and one showing decay with holes.
In both cases, the patients required fillings and/or other work to restore. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
So, let’s dispel this myth with this simple statement:
Dental cavities can be present with our without actual holes in your teeth. You don’t need an actual hole in your tooth to need a filling.
So if your dentist tells you that you have decay (or cavities) and you can’t see or feel a hole, it doesn’t mean there is no cavity. It is definitely there. Ask your dentist to show it to you on an x-ray or have him/her take a photograph of it. I do it all the time.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I’m already working on Dental MythBuster #13!