Dental Cavitations: Definition, Facts, & Myths


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Dental cavitations are often confused with dental cavities, but while cavities are caries in the tooth caused by bacteria and decay, a cavitation is a much more severe issue. Dental cavitation refers to inflammation, infection, or necrosis of the jawbone. 

Cavitation often occurs due to an improperly healed tooth extraction. The hole in the jawbone fills with bacteria and debris, which produce toxic by-products. The toxins can cause a localised infection that can spread to other parts of the body. 

Medical Term Explained

Dental cavitation is a term broadly used by dentists to describe a hole in the jawbone, but it is not an official medical term. The correct term for the condition is “ischemic osteonecrosis” or “cavitational osteonecrosis.” This terminology accurately reflects the deterioration of the jawbone and the presence of bacteria. 

Cavitation Diagnosis

One of the most significant issues dentists face when diagnosing dental cavitation is that they are often asymptomatic. While most oral health issues are accompanied by pain, swelling, discharge, or odour, dental cavitation is usually painless. If you experience discomfort, dentists call the condition Neuralgia-Inducing Cavitational Osteonecrosis (NICO), and it is slightly easier to diagnose. 

When you go for a check-up, and the dentist takes X-ray images of your teeth and jaws, the picture is compressed from a 3D image to 2D, obscuring cavitational lesions. To obtain an accurate rendering of the lesion, your dentist needs to use a Cone Beam CT Scan to build up a jaw 3D picture. 

Using a detailed medical history to determine possible causes and risk factors contributing to jawbone lesions, combined with the imaging scans, your dentist can accurately diagnose dental cavitation and create a personalised treatment plan. 

If you plan a dental procedure or orthodontic work, it is essential to inform your orthodontist in Kent about the potential risk of dental cavitation. This information enables them to perform the appropriate diagnostic tests and treat the issue before proceeding.

Causes of Dental Cavitations

There are several proposed causes of dental cavitation. If you have experienced any of the following five scenarios, tell your dentist that you may be at risk for dental cavitation.

  • Trauma

Severe impact on the jawbone can disrupt blood flow leading to cell death. The absence of cells creates a hole in the bone that can fill with bacteria and lead to cavitation. 

  • Remaining Debris 

An improperly performed extraction can leave behind a membrane that tricks the body into believing the tooth is in the jaw. Consequently, the body will not fill in the missing tooth with tissue causing a hole. A poorly performed extraction can also leave debris in the jawbone leading to dry socket and infection.

  • Overheating the Jawbone

During a dental procedure, handpieces and drill bits spin at high speeds, causing friction as they grind parts of the tooth. This friction creates heat, causing part of the jawbone to die, putting the patient at risk of dental cavitation. 

  • An Abscess

An abscess is a bacterial infection inside the tooth, gum, or jaw. The pus-filled sac can become isolated inside the jawbone creating a lesion that can lead to cavitation. 

  • Prolonged Infection 

If an infected tooth root is left untreated in a root canal procedure, it can spread to the nearby jawbone and deteriorate the tissue. 

Linking Dental Cavitations to Chronic Disease

Research supports an immune mechanism known as the mouth-body connection. It suggests that oral health directly impacts the health of the rest of the body. In the case of dental cavitations, the accumulation of bacteria and debris inside the jawbone can cause an infection and produce toxic waste chemicals. 

These toxins travel along the myelin nerve sheaths and bone tissue into the lymphatic system and bloodstream, distributing the harmful compounds to the rest of the body. Toxins can lead to chronic systemic inflammation, pain, and illness. So while you may not feel the symptoms of dental cavitation in your mouth, you may experience symptoms in other parts of your body directly related to the infection in your jaw. 

Researchers Uncovered Facts

Several studies have uncovered crucial facts about dental cavitation that may help dentists offer better diagnoses and treatments. 

Treating Dental Cavitations

The recommended treatment for dental cavitations is surgery to clean out the lesions and remove any debris. The dentist may send any fluid or tissue removed from the infection site to the lab for analysis to confirm the diagnosis. 

The dentist may use a laser to decontaminate the area and place a bioactive material inside the cleared bone tissue to speed up the natural healing process. 

Another novel approach to treating dental cavitations is with ozone therapy. It offers an alternative to invasive surgery and is often used as a whole-body approach to restorative dentistry. During treatment, ozone gas is injected directly into the lesion site to eliminate microbes, promotes bone remineralisation, and enhances the immune system.

Following cavitation surgery, support for the patient’s immune system is vital to ensure that reinfection does not occur. Most dentists recommend a holistic approach that incorporates a nutrient-rich diet and a course of probiotics to improve the gut biome’s diversity. 

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