Cavities are a common dental problem that can be caused by poor oral hygiene, sugary foods and drinks, and genetics. Untreated cavities can lead to more serious dental issues such as a tooth abscess or even tooth loss. However, many people put off getting their cavities treated either due to fear of the dentist, cost, or lack of time.
While it is important to get cavities treated as soon as possible, the timeline for treatment can vary depending on the size and location of the cavity, as well as your overall dental health. In this article, we will explore how long you can leave a cavity untreated and what happens if you do not get it treated in a timely manner.
What is a Dental Cavity?
A dental cavity is a decayed or damaged area in a tooth that has been caused by bacteria that produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of the tooth. This decay process can eventually lead to a hole or opening in the tooth structure, which is commonly known as a cavity.
To prevent cavities, you should maintain good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing regularly, eating a balanced diet that’s low in sugary or acidic foods and beverages, and seeing a dentist regularly for checkups and teeth cleanings.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat a Cavity?
It is not recommended to leave a cavity untreated for any length of time. Cavities are caused by tooth decay, which is a progressive disease that can worsen over time if left untreated. The longer a cavity is left untreated, the deeper it can penetrate into the tooth, causing more extensive damage and potentially leading to more serious dental problems.
If left untreated, a cavity can continue to grow and spread to deeper layers of the tooth, causing extensive damage and tooth decay. As the cavity grows and reaches the sensitive inner layers of the tooth, you may experience more severe pain and sensitivity.
If the cavity reaches the pulp, or the innermost layer of the tooth that contains nerves and blood vessels, it can cause an infection. An infection in the pulp can lead to the formation of a pocket of pus called an abscess, which can cause swelling, pain, and even spread to other parts of the body.
In some cases, the damage caused by a cavity may affect the tooth root, making it impossible to save the tooth and requiring extraction.
It’s important to address cavities as soon as possible by seeing a dentist for treatment. Regular dental checkups and cleanings can help catch cavities early on before they cause more serious problems. If you suspect that you have a cavity or are experiencing tooth pain or sensitivity, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your teeth and overall oral health.
Signs You May Have a Cavity
Some signs that you may have a cavity include:
- Tooth sensitivity: You may experience tooth pain or sensitivity when you bite down, chew, or consume hot or cold food and beverages.
- Visible holes or pits in teeth: You may be able to see small holes or pits in your teeth or feel a roughness on the surface.
- Tooth discoloration: You may notice white, brown, or black spots or stains on your teeth.
- Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth: Bacteria that cause cavities can also produce an unpleasant odor or taste in the mouth.
- Swelling or redness in the gums: Advanced cavities may cause inflammation or infection in the surrounding gum tissue.
Treatment for Dental Cavities
If a cavity is caught during the early stages of tooth decay, it can be treated without losing the natural tooth. A dental filling is the most common treatment for a cavity. The dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and fill the hole with a material such as composite resin or amalgam.
If the cavity is large and the tooth is weak, the dentist may recommend a dental crown, which is a cap that covers the tooth to protect and strengthen it. If the cavity has reached the pulp or nerve of the tooth, a root canal procedure may be necessary to remove the infected or damaged tissue and restore the tooth.
In some cases, if the damage caused by the cavity is too extensive to save the tooth, it may need to be extracted.
How to Prevent Cavities
Here are some tips to prevent cavities:
- Practice good oral hygiene: Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day to remove plaque and bacteria from your teeth and gums.
- Use a mouthwash: Use a mouthwash containing fluoride to help strengthen your teeth and prevent cavities.
- Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks: Foods and drinks high in sugar and acid can promote the growth of bacteria that cause cavities. Limit your intake of these foods and drinks and try to consume them with meals rather than as snacks.
- Drink plenty of water: Drinking water can help flush away food particles and bacteria from your mouth, reducing the risk of cavities.
- Get regular dental checkups and cleanings: See your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings to catch and treat cavities early on before they cause more serious problems.
If you suspect you may have a cavity, give us a call right away to schedule a dental exam. The longer you leave a cavity untreated, the more invasive the treatment will be.