If you look hard enough, it's often possible to see tooth cavities in their very early stages of formation. Looking at the clinical crown of the tooth (which is its visible surface, made up of dental enamel), you'll see a small off-white patch. This is the dental enamel losing mineralisation, which is the precursor to a cavity. But the progress of a cavity may not be as unstoppable as you think.
The responsibility for spotting enamel demineralisation is largely shared between the patient and their dentist. If you notice any curious changes to the surface enamel covering a tooth's clinical crown, schedule an appointment at your local dental centre without delay. It's not an emergency, but don't procrastinate. Alternatively, it can be your dentist who notes the demineralisation during one of your routine, regular checkups—but this depends on you conscientiously attending those checkups. Regardless of who notes the telltale discolouration, what's the best way to proceed?
Shallow and Limited
Proper action can prevent the further demineralisation of the tooth's enamel, which halts the development of the cavity—making sure it remains shallow and limited to the surface. If the cavity breaches the enamel and reveals the next layer down (tooth dentin), then the cavity requires drilling, before the resulting hollow is filled (with tooth-coloured composite resin). This can be avoided if the problem is noted early enough for your dentist to intervene. The tooth has demineralised, so your dentist must remineralise it.
Corrosion and Decay
Enamel is highly-mineralised, with its primary component being hydroxyapatite (which is a type of calcium phosphate). Demineralisation is linked to corrosive elements in your diet (acidic foods and drinks actively attacking the surface enamel) as well as tooth decay, with cariogenic bacteria (cavity-causing organisms) forming a plaque biofilm on the tooth, which hardens into tartar and begins to corrode the tooth structure upon which it sits. Remineralisation is accomplished with fluoride.
Your dentist will perform a fluoride treatment to bolster the calcium phosphates in your surface enamel, leaving behind a residue that can patch these micro-cavities as they start to form. Enamel can't be regrown, but it can be patched to a limited degree. You may need more than one fluoride treatment, and your dentist may recommend a fluoride-rich toothpaste to use at home, which you'll need to obtain from a drugstore.
Don't increase your fluoride intake of your own accord, and you should only do so under instructions from your dentist. The remineralisation abilities of strategic fluoride treatment can prevent a cavity from fully forming. Reach out to a dental centre near you to learn more.