Cavities and tooth decay are among the world’s most common health problems. They’re especially common in children, teenagers and older adults.
If cavities aren’t treated, they get larger and affect deeper layers of your teeth. So how long can you leave a cavity untreated? In this article, we’ll discuss what is cavity, Causes, symptoms and how long can you leave a cavity untreated.
What are cavities?
A cavity, also called tooth decay, is a hole that forms in your tooth. Cavities start small and gradually become bigger when they’re left untreated. Because many cavities don’t cause pain in the beginning, it can be hard to realize that a problem exists. Regular dental appointments can detect tooth decay early.
According to the Mayo Clinic, cavities and tooth decay are some of the most common health problems in the world. Anyone with teeth can develop cavities, including babies.
Finding out that you have a cavity might come as a surprise. This is especially true if you think you have a good oral hygiene routine. However, even if your dentist delivers this news, there are ways to treat a cavity and prevent new ones from forming.
Causes of tooth cavities
Tooth cavities are caused by plaque, a sticky substance that binds to teeth. Plaque is a combination of:
- food particles
Everyone has bacteria in their mouth. After eating or drinking foods with sugar, bacteria in your mouth turn sugar into acid. Plaque starts forming on your teeth soon after eating or drinking anything sugary. This is why regular brushing is important.
Plaque sticks to your teeth, and the acid in plaque can slowly erode tooth enamel. Enamel is a hard, protective coating on your teeth that protects against tooth decay. As your tooth enamel weakens, the risk for decay increases.
Everyone is at risk for cavities, but some people have a higher risk. Risk factors include:
- too many sugary or acidic foods and drinks
- a poor oral hygiene routine, such as failing to brush or floss daily
- not getting enough fluoride
- dry mouth
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- acid reflux disease, which can result in stomach acid wearing down your tooth enamel
Cavities develop more often in the back teeth, according to the Mayo Clinic. These teeth have grooves and openings that can trap food particles. Also, these teeth are sometimes harder to reach when brushing and flossing.
The signs and symptoms of cavities vary, depending on their extent and location. When a cavity is just beginning, you may not have any symptoms at all. As the decay gets larger, it may cause signs and symptoms such as:
- Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
- Tooth sensitivity
- Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
- Visible holes or pits in your teeth
- Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
- Pain when you bite down
How long can you leave a cavity untreated
You should fill a cavity immediately after discovering it. The longer you leave cavity untreated, the more the decay will penetrate your tooth and increase your risk for health complications.
However, many people may not even know that they have a cavity until they are in severe pain or the tooth has become severely damaged.
Like most ailments, the longer you leave a cavity without treatment, the worse it’s going to get. In a span of 3-6 months cavities can reach the nerve of your tooth.
This practice is not good for your oral health.
How quickly a cavity worsens entirely depends on your oral care habits and what you eat. If you eat sugary foods with poor oral care your cavity will worsen significantly faster.
It’s absolutely in your best interests to get a cavity treated as quickly as possible to avoid even worse future pain. It’s even more so at this particular time of year since dental benefits will transition at the end of December so it’s a good idea use them up before next year.
If the reason you don’t want to get your cavity treated is because you’re afraid to go to the dentist, you’re not alone. Other people also share your fear, but if you let the dentist know before you start that you have dental anxiety they can better help you to make the experience less fear-inducing and help you relax.
What Happens If I Leave a Cavity Untreated?
A few things can happen if you happen to skip out on your regular dental appointments and allow a cavity to go untreated:
The initial signs of a cavity include your tooth becoming more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures. You might notice that you can no longer enjoy that piping hot coffee in the morning. Or you might experience a toothache when you drink that refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. This is your body warning you that there’s an issue with your tooth and it should be addressed quickly.
Over time, your tooth will become more painful to use. Whether you’re chewing into a soft marshmallow or trying to bite into a sandwich, you’ll experience a swift and recurring pain that seems to radiate throughout your mouth. This is a clear sign that you need to see a dentist immediately.
If bacteria is able to reach your tooth’s pulp, it may become abscessed. This can result in swelling. This is your body telling you that it’s time to see a dentist before it’s too late. The swelling is related to the inflammation in that area of your mouth.
May require a Root Canal or Extraction
If left untreated, a root canal treatment or extraction may be necessary. This is the result of an infection in the nerve of your tooth. A root canal can help you to keep the tooth without undergoing a full extraction. An extraction will be required if the damage is too extensive to repair. In this instance, the tooth will be completely removed.Early identification of a cavity by a dentist is the best approach to safeguarding your health over the coming years. Your dentist can help you to manage the problem and treat the cavity. To discover more about the process for treating cavities, book an appointment with us today.
Good oral and dental hygiene can help you avoid cavities and tooth decay. Here are some tips to help prevent cavities. Ask your dentist which tips are best for you.
Brush with fluoride toothpaste after eating or drinking.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day and ideally after every meal, using fluoride-containing toothpaste. To clean between your teeth, floss or use an interdental cleaner.
Rinse your mouth
If your dentist feels you have a high risk of developing cavities, he or she may recommend that you use a mouth rinse with fluoride.
Visit your dentist regularly
Get professional teeth cleanings and regular oral exams, which can help prevent problems or spot them early. Your dentist can recommend a schedule that’s best for you.
Consider dental sealants
A sealant is a protective plastic coating applied to the chewing surface of back teeth. It seals off grooves and crannies that tend to collect food, protecting tooth enamel from plaque and acid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends sealants for all school-age children. Sealants may last for several years before they need to be replaced, but they need to be checked regularly.
Drink some tap water
Most public water supplies have added fluoride, which can help reduce tooth decay significantly. If you drink only bottled water that doesn’t contain fluoride, you’ll miss out on fluoride benefits.
Avoid frequent snacking and sipping
Whenever you eat or drink beverages other than water, you help your mouth bacteria create acids that can destroy tooth enamel. If you snack or drink throughout the day, your teeth are under constant attack.
Eat tooth-healthy foods
Some foods and beverages are better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in grooves and pits of your teeth for long periods, or brush soon after eating them. However, foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables increase saliva flow, and unsweetened coffee, tea and sugar-free gum help wash away food particles.
Consider fluoride treatments
Your dentist may recommend periodic fluoride treatments, especially if you aren’t getting enough fluoride through fluoridated drinking water and other sources. He or she may also recommend custom trays that fit over your teeth for application of prescription fluoride if your risk of tooth decay is very high.
Ask about antibacterial treatments
If you’re especially vulnerable to tooth decay — for example, because of a medical condition — your dentist may recommend special antibacterial mouth rinses or other treatments to help cut down on harmful bacteria in your mouth.
Chewing xylitol-based gum along with prescription fluoride and an antibacterial rinse can help reduce the risk of cavities
Treatment options for tooth cavities
Tell your doctor about uncomfortable symptoms like tooth sensitivity or pain. Your dentist can identify tooth decay after an oral exam. However, when the cavities aren’t visible from an oral exam, your dentist may use a dental X-ray to look for decay.
Treatment options depend on severity. There are several ways to treat a cavity. Here are some treatment options
A dentist uses a drill and removes decayed material from a tooth. Your dentist then fills your tooth with a substance, such as silver, gold, or composite resin.
When tooth decay causes the death of your nerves, your dentist will perform a root canal to save your tooth. They remove the nerve tissue, blood vessel tissues, and any decayed areas of your tooth. Your dentist then checks for infections and applies medication to the roots as needed. Finally, they fill the tooth, and they might even place a crown on it.