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What Can Happen If Tooth Decay Is Not Treated?

jaw pain in young adult womanTooth decay is a common oral disease that can cause significant damage to your teeth if left untreated. Unfortunately, people often underestimate the severity of dental cavities, assuming that tooth decay is a minor issue that can be left alone until it hurts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Tooth decay can lead to various side effects and complications, and may become life-threatening if not promptly treated.

How Does a Cavity Develop?

Cavities are caused by acidic erosion that gradually works away at our tooth enamel. Even though teeth are extremely strong, they are not completely resistant to acids and bacteria. As enamel begins to erode, it can create a hole or cavity in the tooth at that location. Cavities are most common in areas that are more difficult to clean, such as between back teeth or in the tiny pits and fissures on their chewing surfaces.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Our diet and oral hygiene habits are the two most important factors in developing tooth decay. The longer areas of plaque go undisturbed, and the more sugary, acidic foods or drinks we consume, the more likely we are to develop cavities. Eating frequently throughout the day or neglecting to floss our teeth daily can increase the risk of developing cavities.

Poor oral hygiene

Thorough plaque removal is essential to preventing cavities. Brushing twice a day and flossing daily are key. Since plaque contains acids that cause cavities, and it builds up throughout the day, cleaning your teeth regularly will limit your risk of tooth decay. If you snack frequently throughout the day or don’t brush and floss as often as you should, you’re more likely to see new cavities develop.

Plaque formation

When we eat, the natural bacteria in our mouth process food particles and secrete sticky acidic plaque. The longer plaque clings to teeth, the more acid erosion occurs in those spaces. Thankfully, brushing and flossing remove most plaque. But if plaque sets on teeth for too long, it will ultimately lead to demineralization and cavities on those surfaces.

Eating and drinking too much of sugary foods

High sugar intake can raise the risk of new cavities. In many cases, sugars come from sources like sports drinks, flavoured beverages, fruit juices, and other things we don’t traditionally think of as sweets. Processed foods also contribute to the issue, such as bleached flour in snack foods or bread. By limiting how often you eat or drink these items daily, you can lower your risk of tooth decay. But when you enjoy them, try to have them with a meal (instead of mid-day) and rinse or brush your teeth afterwards.

Does Tooth Decay Spread?

Yes, tooth decay can spread and affect other teeth in your mouth. The bacteria that cause tooth decay can quickly multiply and expand deeper into the tooth or adjacent teeth. It’s best to treat cavities early while they’re still small.

Small cavities are usually treated with a modest filling. But if the decay expands deeper into the tooth, more complex treatments, such as a crown or root canal will be needed. Early treatments also reduce your chances of having to treat cavities in the neighbouring teeth.

Dental Fillings vs Crown and Root Canals

Dental fillings are an effective treatment for tooth decay when caught in the earliest stages. Our dentist will remove the decayed part of the tooth and replace it with a filling. However, if the decay has progressed deeper into the nerve, a root canal will be required. Larger cavities that compromise the structure of a tooth will require a crown instead of a filling to withstand normal biting and chewing pressure. Similarly, crowns are recommended after root canal treatment.

What If My Tooth Doesn’t Hurt?

It’s important to note that not all cases of tooth decay cause pain or sensitivity. In fact, it’s possible to have a cavity and not even realise it. Regular dental checkups are crucial to identify cavities in their earliest stages. Even if your tooth doesn’t hurt, our dentist can screen for decay through a visual exam, X-rays or other diagnostic tools.

How to Tell if You Have a Cavity

Many cavities are asymptomatic; you can’t tell anything is off. Others are not. Common symptoms of tooth decay include sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, a visible hole or pit in the tooth, and tooth pain. If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s important to schedule an appointment with our dental team as soon as possible. We can diagnose the problem and provide treatment before it becomes more severe.

Tooth Decay Exams

Regular dental visits are the best way to prevent tooth decay and catch it early when it occurs. During your exam, our dentist will check for signs of decay. We may also use X-rays to better look at specific teeth to identify any decay not visible to the naked eye.

Book an Appointment

If you haven’t had a dental exam in a while, contact us today to schedule an appointment. We’ll work with you to ensure your teeth stay healthy and strong for years to come!

Any invasive or surgical procedure may carry risks. Before moving forward, it is recommended that you seek a second opinion from an appropriately licensed medical professional.

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