The grooves and pits in back teeth make them more likely to get cavities. Food can get stuck in the crevasses and they can be hard to reach with a toothbrush. But cavities on front teeth are possible too.
Dentists treat cavities in front teeth the same as any other cavity. They may take some extra steps when fixing them, though, to make sure they look good. After all, these teeth are front and center for all to see.
Some Tooth Terminology
Humans have four main types of teeth. The front teeth are called incisors. There are four incisors on the top jaw (called the maxilla) and four on the bottom (called the mandible). Next to the incisors, on either side, is a canine tooth. These are on top and bottom too. Next, come two premolars on either side, top, and bottom. Finally, at the very back of the top and bottom jaw are three molars on each side.
Most cavities occur in the molars and premolars. Their rough surfaces make it easier for them to grind up food when chewing. The bumpy, uneven surface is a perfect place for food particles to stick. If those pieces of food don’t get cleaned away with brushing and flossing, their acids can eat away at teeth, causing cavities. Unfortunately, it can be hard to reach some of these spots while brushing, making them prone to cavities.
Since incisors are the easiest to reach and naturally smoother than back teeth, cleaning them is easier. This makes cavities less likely on the front teeth, but they are still possible.
How Cavities Form
A cavity forms when acids and sugars combine with bacteria in the mouth. They build up on teeth to form a sticky substance called plaque. If the plaque stays there long enough, it will start to eat away at the hard, outer layer of the tooth called the enamel.
The resulting hole is called a cavity. It can be shallow and only impact the enamel, or it can keep decaying the tooth and go deeper. If it reaches the softer part of the tooth beneath the enamel called the dentin, it will grow and spread even faster. Eventually, it might get to the pulp chamber. This is the root that’s filled with blood vessels and nerves. At this point, the bacteria can cause a painful infection called an abscess.
When cavities are small, a patient might not even know they have one. They may only show up with an x-ray at the dentist’s office. As they grow, they are more likely to cause pain and discomfort. It may be hard to chew and hot or cold beverages might hurt. Sometimes, a cavity will be visible as a brown or gray mark on the tooth. This may be easy to spot if the cavity is on a front tooth.
What Causes Cavities in Front Teeth?
For adults, cavities in front teeth form for the same reasons and in the same way as cavities in any other part of the mouth. They are usually due to a combination of inadequate brushing and flossing, and a diet full of sugary, acidic food and drink. Certain medical conditions and heredity can also play a part in a person’s chances of getting cavities.
When small children get cavities on front teeth, it could be because of “baby bottle tooth decay.” Most doctors ask parents to avoid letting their infants and toddlers have a bottle overnight or for long periods during the day. This can allow the natural sugars from milk, formula, or fruit juices to linger in the mouth. The result is bacteria that can cause cavities in baby teeth. Even though baby teeth eventually fall out, they are extremely important to a child’s dental development. Cavities at a young age can interfere with chewing and talking.
Good dental care should start even before teeth pop up, with wiping a baby’s gums. Brushing should become routine when teeth appear. The first trip to the dentist should be within six months of that time, or around the baby’s first birthday.
Treating Cavities On Front Teeth
The treatment for front teeth cavities is the same as for any other cavity. Most often, that means a filling. Because of its location front and center in the mouth, the dentist will usually recommend porcelain or composite resin as the filling material. Unlike gold or silver-colored amalgam fillings, these materials can be made to match the color of the rest of the tooth.
Veneers are another option and can be a good choice if the cavity is large and on the front-facing side of the tooth. A veneer covers up the entire front of the tooth. They are a bit more invasive than fillings. For a filling, the dentist drills a hole right at the site of the cavity. For a veneer, he or she etches away a large portion of the enamel across the entire front surface of the tooth, then cements on the veneer.
If the decay is widespread, the patient might need a crown to cover the entire tooth. If the cavity goes deep enough, they will probably need a root canal procedure first. Crowns, like fillings, also come in materials that can match the look and feel of a natural tooth.
Any procedure that is done to fix a cavity on front teeth is usually done with cosmetics in mind. One thing to remember is that dental restorations are manmade and not like real tooth enamel. Teeth get stained or discolored over time. But fillings, crowns, and veneers will stay the same, which can make them stand out, especially on front teeth. Likewise, they won’t change color, even with professional teeth whitening products. A good rule of thumb is to discuss future teeth whitening plans with the dentist. They can match the filling or crown to what the teeth will look like once they are the desired shade.
Don’t Ignore a Cavity on a Front Tooth
Cavities in front teeth are no more—and no less—serious than any other cavity. But ignoring it can cause further damage as the decay spreads. No matter where a cavity is, see a dentist right away to get it fixed. If you don’t have a regular dentist, use our online tool to find one.