What is Cavity
Cavities are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. Cavities are a common dental issue, but how long can you leave a cavity untreated before it becomes a more serious problem? In this article, we’ll delve into the causes of cavities, the dangers of leaving them untreated, the stages of cavity development, treatment options, and prevention strategies.
The Signs of Cavities
Common signs of a cavity include toothache, sensitivity to hot or cold, visible holes or pits in your teeth, and pain when biting down. Also, you may feel the following
- sudden and acute pain may arise unexpectedly
- holes or indentations on the tooth’s surface
- sensitivity of the tooth to stimuli, such as heat or cold
- discomfort or pain emanating from the affected tooth
How Cavities Are Formed
Cavities are a form of tooth decay that develops when bacteria generate acids that erode small cavities in the teeth. These bacteria and their corrosive acids have the propensity to accumulate in the areas of teeth where there are depressions or spaces, such as the grooves between the molars located at the back of the mouth.
As the bacteria continue to proliferate and create more acids, they will gradually bore larger and deeper cavities in the teeth. This can result in the erosion of the tough outer layer of tooth enamel, which can then proceed to damage the softer underlying tissues. If the soft tissues are compromised, the tooth may become brittle and painful. Should the decay continue to progress, it could cause damage to the tooth root, surrounding teeth, gums, and nerves or tissues located around the face and mouth. In severe cases, the infection can even spread to the bloodstream, brain, and other organs, which could potentially result in fatality.
Early Stages of Cavity
The first stage of cavity development is characterized by a white spot on the tooth enamel. This is an early sign of demineralization and can be reversed with proper oral hygiene and fluoride treatments.
At this stage, symptoms of a cavity may become evident, depending on the size and depth of the cavity. These may include sensitivity to heat and cold, tenderness or pain, or a small hole on the tooth surface.
Late Stages of Cavity
At this stage, the decay has penetrated the tooth enamel. A dental professional must intervene to prevent further damage.
Once decay reaches the dentin, the tooth becomes more sensitive to hot and cold. Treatment at this stage is crucial to prevent more severe consequences.
At this stage, the decay has reached the tooth’s pulp, causing severe pain and potentially leading to infection. Treatment is essential to save the tooth and avoid complications like abscesses.
Once the bacteria have eaten through the tough tooth enamel, it can invade the softer structures of the tooth, such as the tooth root and tooth pulp. As the cavity worsens, the bacteria can infect the tooth pulp and root, ultimately causing the tooth to die.
The tooth will likely become painful and sore, and may also feel brittle or loose. Additionally, you may observe discoloration around the tooth, such as brown, dark yellow, or black. There may also be redness and swelling around the gums.
What will happen if you leave the cavity untreated?
In fact, within a span of 3-6 months, a cavity can reach the nerve of your tooth, which can result in significant discomfort and pain.
If a cavity is left untreated for two years or more, the tooth is likely to experience severe damage. You may observe discoloration around the tooth, swelling around the gums, as well as intense pain and sensitivity.
After two years of untreated tooth decay, the infection will probably spread to other teeth and gums. Additionally, you may notice swelling around the cheek, jaw, or chin.
The longer a cavity is left untreated, the more harm it will inflict. Cavities left untreated for two years or more can result in tooth loss.
How long you can leave the cavity untreated?
It is highly recommended that you seek treatment for a cavity as soon as possible to prevent the potential for more pain and discomfort in the future. You should visit the doctor at the early stages of cavities. By scheduling routine dental check-ups every six months, your dentist can detect cavities in their early stages. When treating a cavity, your dentist will remove the affected portion of the tooth, eliminate any harmful bacteria, and fill the cavity created by the bacteria.
If you are hesitant to undergo dental treatment due to fear or anxiety, it is important to know that you are not alone. Many individuals share these feelings. However, by communicating your anxiety to your dentist, they can work with you to create a more comfortable and relaxing experience.
What are the Treatment options available for cavities?
Depending on the severity of the cavity, there are various treatment options available.
Fillings are a crucial part of dental treatment that prevent the buildup of bacteria or plaque inside cavities, which could lead to potentially harmful infections. They also help to reinforce the strength of the tooth, making it more resistant to chipping and cracking.
A dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and fill the hole with a dental material like composite resin, amalgam, or porcelain.
A root canal is often recommended to alleviate pain and prevent further damage to the affected tooth. During this procedure, the dentist removes the infected pulp, cleans and shapes the inside of the tooth, and fills it with a rubber-like material.
If a large portion of the tooth is damaged, a dental crown may be recommended to restore its function and appearance. The dentist will remove the decayed area and cover the remaining tooth structure with a custom-made crown.
In extreme cases where the tooth cannot be saved, extraction may be necessary. Afterward, the dentist may suggest a dental implant, bridge, or denture to replace the missing tooth.
Useful Tips to Prevent Cavities
Proper Oral Hygiene
Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily to remove plaque buildup. Consider using mouthwash to help reduce bacteria in your mouth.
Regular Dental Checkups
Visit your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. They can identify early signs of cavities and recommend treatments to prevent further decay.
Diet and Nutrition
Limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay. Instead, opt for a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products to support your oral health.
The time it takes for a cavity to progress varies based on individual factors, but leaving a cavity untreated is never a good idea. Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent complications like pain, infection, and tooth loss. Maintain proper oral hygiene, visit your dentist regularly, and follow a balanced diet to minimize your risk of developing cavities.
How quickly do cavities progress
The progression of cavities depends on factors like oral hygiene habits, diet, and individual susceptibility. Cavities can take months or even years to develop, but early intervention is essential to avoid complications.
Can you reverse a cavity?
In its early stages, when only the enamel is affected, it’s possible to reverse a cavity through remineralization. However, once the decay reaches the dentin, professional intervention is required.
Is it normal to have some pain after a filling?
Some discomfort or sensitivity after a filling is normal and should subside within a few days. If the pain persists or worsens, contact your dentist for a follow-up appointment.
How can I tell if I have a cavity without going to the dentist?
While some signs of a cavity, like a toothache and sensitivity, may be noticeable, it’s essential to visit a dentist for a definitive diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Do all cavities need to be filled?
Not all cavities require fillings, especially if detected early. In some cases, improved oral hygiene and fluoride treatments can help reverse early-stage cavities.