How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated?


Cavities can cause severe damage to your teeth if left untreated. If left for too long, the decay can reach the tooth’s inner layer and cause an infection. This infection can sometimes lead to pain, swelling, and even tooth abscesses.

If you suspect you may have a cavity, getting it treated as soon as possible is essential to prevent further damage.

What Are Cavities?

Cavities, also known as dental caries, are areas of tooth decay that can cause damage to a tooth structure. They can be caused by bacteria in the mouth, poor oral hygiene habits, and a diet high in sugars and starches.

Cavities can affect people of all ages, but children and young adults are more likely to develop them. This is because their teeth are still developing, and their enamel is softer and more prone to decay.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Cavities

Signs and symptoms of cavities can range from mild to severe, depending on how long they have been left untreated. These include:

  • Tooth sensitivity when eating or drinking hot or cold foods
  • Visible holes or pits in the natural teeth
  • Staining or discoloration of the tooth
  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Sharp pain when biting or chewing
  • Swelling around a tooth

Different Types of Cavities

  • Pit and fissure cavities: These are caused by a buildup of plaque on the chewing surfaces of teeth. Sealing these areas with sealants is an effective way to prevent pit and fissure cavities.
  • Smooth surface cavities: These types of cavities form on the flat surfaces of teeth. They are the least severe type of cavities and can be reversed by a good oral hygiene routine such as brushing and flossing.
  • Root cavities: These occur when bacteria have eaten away at the roots of teeth, often due to gum disease. Treatment for this type of cavity may involve root canal therapy or, in extreme cases, extraction of the affected tooth.

Consequences of Leaving a Cavity Untreated

Untreated cavities can cause severe damage to a tooth. Over time, the decay can reach the inner layer of the tooth, called the pulp. This can lead to an infection, resulting in pain and swelling. Sometimes, it can even lead to an abscess if left untreated.

Cavities can progress through several stages, depending on how long they have been left untreated.

  • Early Stage: In the early stages of a cavity, there may be no visible signs or symptoms. The tooth may still feel sensitive to hot and cold temperatures, but this can easily be mistaken for something else. At this stage, it is essential to visit your dentist as soon as possible to stop the decay from progressing. A simple filling can often repair the damage caused by a cavity at this stage.
  • Advanced Stage: At this stage, the decay has reached the inner layer of the tooth (dental pulp). If left untreated, it can cause an infection and severe pain. Treatment at this point may include a root canal or extraction of the affected tooth.

Treatment Options for Tooth Cavities

Treatment options for cavities vary depending on the severity of the decay. At the earliest stages, a dentist may be able to reverse the cavity with simple preventative measures such as sealants and fluoride treatments. However, if left untreated or the cavity has progressed to an advanced stage, more complex treatments may be needed. These include fillings, crowns, root canal therapy, and tooth extractions.

#1. Fluoride Treatment

Fluoride helps to strengthen the tooth enamel and make it more resistant to decay. Fluoride treatments can be applied in the form of gels, varnishes, or mouth rinses and are usually used in combination with other treatments such as sealants.

#2.Dental Sealants

Sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to the chewing surfaces of teeth. They help to protect these areas from plaque and bacteria, which can cause cavities.

#3. Dental Fillings

A dental filling is a restorative treatment used to fill and repair cavities caused by tooth decay. During this procedure, the area of decay is removed, and then the cavity is filled with a material such as an amalgam, composite resin, or porcelain. Tooth fillings are designed to restore the tooth’s structure and help protect it against further damage. They can also improve the appearance of the tooth by replacing the area of decay with a filling material that matches the color of your natural teeth.

#4. Dental Crowns

Dental crowns are used to treat cavities that have progressed to the point where fillings can no longer protect the tooth from further damage. A dental crown is a cap-like piece of metal or porcelain that fits over the affected teeth, restoring their shape and strength. Crowns provide permanent protection for the tooth, making them an ideal treatment for severe cavities.

#5. Root Canal Treatment

If the decay has reached the tooth’s inner layer, a root canal procedure may be necessary. During this dental procedure, the dentist will remove the damaged portion of the tooth and fill it with a special material to help protect it against further damage. Root canals can be painful but often necessary to save a tooth from extraction.

#6. Tooth Extractions

Sometimes, a cavity may be so severe or advanced that the only option is to extract the tooth. This procedure is usually done in cases of severe decay, extensive damage, or infection that has spread to the tooth’s inner layers. The dentist will use special tools to remove the tooth and any remaining decay from the mouth. Following an extraction, the dentist will recommend a replacement option, such as a dental implant or bridge, to restore the missing tooth.

How Can I Prevent Cavities?

Practicing good dental hygiene is the best way to protect your teeth from cavities. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily to remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly (at least twice yearly) for dental checkups and cleanings.
  • Limit your intake of starchy and sugary foods.
  • Use a mouthwash to help remove bacteria from the mouth.

Keep Your Mouth Healthy with Mann Family Dental!

It is important to monitor your oral health and pay attention to any changes. If you notice anything unusual, such as tooth pain or discoloration, make an appointment with our dentist as soon as possible. We can diagnose the problem and recommend the best treatment for you. With proper preventive measures and timely treatment, you can protect your teeth from cavities and keep them healthy for years to come.

Dr. Mann_pp

Dr. Russell Mann graduated from the University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston Texas and has owned and operated his dental practice in Manchester New Hampshire for over 20 years.

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