What Happens If You Leave a Cavity Untreated?
Cavities; no one wants to hear they’ve got one. So much so that people avoid going to the dentist altogether because avoidance is an easier short-term solution.
Cavities are one of the most common dental issues. About 90% of adults over 20 years old have had at least one cavity at some point in their lives. It’s thought that 27% of adults over 20 have untreated cavities. Since you can’t self-diagnose cavities, the only way to know for sure if you have one is to see your dentist.
What Is a Cavity?
A cavity is a clinical term for tooth decay. Our teeth are coated in a substance called enamel. It is the hardest substance in our bodies, even harder than bone. Tooth enamel protects our teeth from decay and resulting sensitivity. Due to the daily stresses we place on our teeth, enamel can wear down over time leaving our teeth exposed.
Our bodies don’t regenerate enamel. Once it’s gone, there’s nothing we can do to rebuild it which is why it’s crucial to establish a thorough dental hygiene routine along with regular dental check-ups to maintain the integrity of our enamel.
Factors that speed up enamel loss include:
- Teeth grinding
- Consuming sugary foods
- Drinking acidic beverages
- Frequent vomiting
- Acid reflux
- Excessive alcohol consumption
These can cause enamel to erode, creating a perfect environment for tooth decay. When we consume sugary or carbohydrate-rich foods, our saliva breaks them down and releases acid. When this acid reacts with our teeth, especially when the enamel is weakened, this results in decay.
Left untreated, cavities can create holes in your teeth that deepen and widen over time. The cavity can even reach all the way down to the nerve endings, resulting in constant discomfort and sensitivity. At that stage, the cavity will be impossible to ignore.
How to Know If You Have a Cavity?
When a cavity begins to form, there may not be any noticeable symptoms, especially not to the untrained eye. Once the cavity begins to worsen, however, you’ll start to feel it. Cavity symptoms include:
- Tooth discomfort that appears without apparent cause
- Mild to sharp discomfort when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
- Visible holes or divots in your teeth
- Brown, black, or white staining on the surface of a tooth
- Discomfort when biting down
The discomfort that seems to manifest spontaneously is a clear sign to go to the dentist. The pain will not subside without proper treatment and the cavity will only grow over time.
How Does a Dentist Treat a Cavity?
Cavities are treated with a procedure called filling. As the name implies, a cavity filling “fills” the gap created by tooth decay. Fillings are made out of materials such as gold, porcelain, silver amalgam, or resin, which is made out of composite plastic and glass. Each material has pros and cons when it comes to price, longevity, and appearance. Some people prefer the look of a gold filling while others want their fillings to blend in as much as possible.
The dentist begins by numbing the local area around the cavity. Then they use a drill, air abrasion instrument, or laser to remove the decay. Once all of the decay has been removed, the dentist will clean the area to clear any traces of debris or bacteria. The area is then carefully shaped to form a proper base for the filling. This will help prevent the tooth from fracturing or any future decay.
Once the tooth is ready, the filling is inserted. If the cavity is deep, a sealer may be placed on the tooth under the filling to prevent sensitivity issues. The dentist will then smooth down the filling to make it less noticeable, both to the eye and to the touch.
How to Care for Fillings
Fillings last between 5 and 15 years depending on their material, but they’re still prone to issues just like real teeth. You’ll need to adhere to a diligent dental hygiene routine of twice-daily brushing, flossing, and mouthwash. It’s also important to visit your dentist at least once a year and preferably twice yearly to check on the status of your filling.
Fillings can crack or “leak,” which is when the sides of the filling don’t fit tightly around the tooth. This allows saliva, debris, and bacteria to infiltrate the tooth and cause further decay. Warning signs of issues with your filling are tooth sensitivity, feeling a sharp edge, or feeling that a piece of your tooth is missing. Call a dentist right away to get resolve the issue and prevent your pain from worsening.
Cavities are a simple fix if caught early on. Treatment is quick, non-invasive, and presents minimal discomfort. That said, you don’t need to panic if your dentist informs you that you have one. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to prevent them with a good oral hygiene routine. Follow our dental tips for healthy teeth and include regular dentist appointments as part of your overall health and wellness plan.