According to the Nation Institute of Dental And Craniofacial Research, over 90% of adults have had a cavity, also known as dental caries, in their lifetime. The same study reveals that 26% of people between 20 and 24 years have an unfilled cavity.
It is, therefore, understandable when someone asks how long one should leave a cavity untreated. A cavity should not be left open for too long as this could lead to infections, severe pain from tooth decay, and abscesses.
What’s A Cavity?
This is a hole that develops in a tooth. Cavities occur as a result of tooth decay. The latter is caused by the persistence of dental plaque on the tooth’s surface. Dental Plaque is a layer of bacteria, food particles, and mineral deposits trapped on teeth surfaces due to poor dental hygiene.
Bacteria convert sugars from the trapped food particles into acid, which is responsible for eating up the tooth’s enamel. When left untreated, the tooth decay will continue to erode the ailing tooth, causing a deep hole that runs deep into the tooth.
Adults have a harder enamel compared to children. This means children are more susceptible to cavity. However, dental caries is a common condition among individuals of all ages.
How To Tell When You Have a Cavity
Dental caries will show as dark or pale spots at their initial stage but gradually turns to black, brown, or yellow. It is therefore recommended that you examine your teeth regularly to look out for any discoloration.
However, a cavity located on the tooth’s back surface or in between teeth might be invisible to your eye. For this reason, you should make regular checkups with your dentist. Dental checkups will help with the early detection of cavities.
When the cavity is detected at its early stages, further infections and damage are prevented. The dentist tests your teeth for cavity by examining them thoroughly, performing radiographs, and probing for teeth softness.
At its early stages, the cavity is not painful at all, which means you might not realize it without a dental checkup. Most people realize they have a dental cavity when it has penetrated too deep into the tooth, causing severe pain.
At its advanced stage, your tooth begins to become too sensitive to cold, heat, and pressure. Once the cavity has reached the Central Pulp Cavity of the tooth, the region with the most nervous ending, you begin experiencing persistent and intense pain. This is the most advanced stage of the cavity, and it could lead to a dental abscess.
How Soon Should I Visit A Dentist After Detecting A Cavity?
You should see a dentist as soon as possible. The sooner you seek a dentist’s help, the better the chances that the decay will be halted before it advances. A delay will lead to further damage, pain, and the treatment may be more costly.
If the tooth decay is caught really early, you can deal with it with just a simple fluoride treatment, which restores the decayed enamel. However, people with advanced cavities will require more intensive treatment.
The longer you stay with the cavity untreated, the more damage it causes, the bigger the treatment bill gets, and the more pain you will suffer.
Cavity Treatment Options
1. Moderate and mildly severe cavities are treated with fillings, a process known as restoration. The dentist drills away the decayed tooth and fills the hole with one of the many filling materials varying in strength, cost, and appearance.
2. If the damage is severe, it might necessitate a Crown. This is the process of drilling away the entire crown (the visible part of the tooth) and replacing it with a different covering material. Just like filling, crowns vary in strength, cost, and appearance.
3. When the cavity extends deep into the pulp cavity, your dentist will recommend a root canal. The process is similar to that of a basic filing, only that it runs deeper because the damaged pulp needs to be drilled out. Additionally, the cavity might require to be treated before being filled.
4. In some cases, the damage caused to the tooth could be too severe that it cannot be saved. In such circumstances, your dentist will have no option but remove the bad tooth. You can leave the gap to heal or have it filled with a dental implant or bridge.
What Will Happen When A Cavity Is Left Untreated?
Dentists will tell you that most people with cavity say they were not aware they even had it. We have already established that a cavity could go unnoticed during its early stages because there is no pain or any other conspicuous symptom.
If you take bi-annual dental checkups, that means you could go 6 months with a cavity that you are unaware of. Do tiny cavities require filling? The answer is yes and no since that will depend on various factors. If the cavity is too tiny, a filling will not be necessary because a fluoride treatment works effectively. Preventative resins known as sealants could also be used to prevent the small cavity from digging deeper into the tooth.
1. Root Canals and Large Fillings
Whenever a cavity is not treated in time, it could lead to extremely serious consequences. The most common consequence is that the advanced cavity will necessitate large fillings. Even worse, if there lacks sufficient tooth material left, a root canal would be the only option left.
Root canal is the removal of the tooth’s soft tissues and pulp. The void is then filled with various filling materials to avoid further damage. Some circumstances will necessitate the placement of a crown over the tooth to restore its function and protect it from further decay.
Large dental fillings, root canal in particular, are extremely expensive compared to the lower cost of performing a basic cavity filling on a small decay.
These are very serious infections forming on severely decayed teeth. Abscesses are known to cause severe swelling and pain. It is a deadly infection that infects oral tissues and could extend to the bones.
When experiencing severe oral pain or happen to notice pus oozing from your gums, it is vital that you visit your dentist immediately.
3. Dental Implants
In situations where the damage to the tooth is too severe that dental fillings and root canals cannot save it, the tooth will have to be removed. Instead of remaining with a toothless gap, most people go for dental implants after the ailing tooth is extracted.
A dental implant involves a post and a crown. The dentist implants the post into the bone and gum, and once the tissues have fused around the post and healed, the crown is installed to fill the gap left behind by the removed tooth.
A dental implant will function and looks like a natural tooth. However, they are extremely expensive, especially when it was unexpected.
While dental caries are common, you should take them seriously. Cavities are preventable with a healthy diet, good oral hygiene, and regular dental checkups. When you delay cavity treatment, you not only put your health at risk but also attract massive medical bills associated with the treatments of more advanced cavities. If you have detected dental caries, visit your dentist as soon as possible to have it treated early and save yourself from pain and huge bills.