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So, You Have Been Told You Have A Cavity. What Does That Mean?

So, You Have Been Told You Have A Cavity. What Does That Mean?

By Jill M. Golsen, DMD

You just came from your dental appointment. We spoke to you in what seemed to be another language. You nodded your head as if you understood— but did you?

We said, “You have occlusal decay on tooth #30, a MO lesion on #29, and a buccal Class V on #21.”

Wait, what? OK. So, here is the decoding.

There are several types of tooth decay. They are based on location in the mouth.

Screen Shot 2018-11-28 at 7.22.42 PMThe occlusal surface is the biting, chewing surface of the tooth. This surface has the pits and fissures that require dentists to use the explorer (that instrument) to see if they can find a “catch” in the pit. These grooves are like little fissures that collect bacteria, but some are developmental defects that never really closed when the tooth was formed—allowing bacteria to dig easily into that groove of the tooth. This decay is usually more of a poor closing of the grooves caused by genetics. In my practice, we use a Spectra camera to detect the level of decay, so it takes the guesswork out of using the explorer. If you don’t know what a Spectra camera is, see my article “Dental Care: Have You Seen The Inside Of Your Mouth Lately?” on

The second type of tooth decay is smooth surface decay. This one IS your fault!

If you are not flossing and brushing, well, guess what? This is the decay that happens between your teeth when you don’t floss! So, MO is Mesial, toward your nose, so to speak, and DO is Distal, away from the nose on either side of the tooth. The O stands for occlusal. Unfortunately, we have to access the tooth from the top to get in between it and get the decay out.

The third type of tooth decay is root decay or root caries (the Class V).

This decay is usually at the gumline in recessed areas under the junction of the enamel, where the cementum starts. That area is considered the root of the tooth and the surface is softer than enamel. Once penetrated, it’s closer to the nerve and decay can grow fast there. You must brush effectively at the gumlines of your teeth to prevent this type of decay!

The final type of tooth decay is redecay.

You will hear us say this when there is decay at the edge of the artificial material of a restoration like under a crown margin or filling margin. This type of decay is usually from not brushing and flossing those areas as well.

Here is the bottom line. Get your Sonicare toothbrush and use it at least twice a day. Floss all of your teeth at least once, if not twice, a day. Concentrate on it and do a good job getting this plaque out of your mouth.

Watch your sugar intake and don’t snack all the time. If you need instructions on how to brush, ask your hygienist or come to our office. We will be happy to decode this and teach you how to take better care of your teeth so you can keep them from getting these types of decay!

Golsen Family Dentistry • Jill M. Golsen, DMD • (770) 667-0669 • 

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