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The Serious Consequences of an Untreated Dental Cavity

May 18, 2021
If the only reason you brush your teeth is so you can have a pretty smile, you’re doing your mouth a disservice. A dental cavity can do more than just change the appearance of your smile.

If the only reason you brush your teeth is so you can have a pretty smile, you’re doing your mouth a disservice. A dental cavity can do more than just change the appearance of your smile. In fact, the consequences of a cavity can be far-reaching and affect more than just your mouth.

What is a dental cavity?

A cavity is a hole in your tooth. This hole allows food and plaque to get inside the tooth, where it then feeds bad bacteria in your mouth. This bacteria, when fed, cause infection.

A cavity can form on any surface of your teeth – including surfaces you can’t see. They can form in between teeth or on the backsides of teeth. Sometimes they don’t even form on the surface first. Instead, they begin inside the tooth and by the time you see the signs, it’s already a deep cavity.

When a cavity is deep enough, it reaches the tooth’s nerve and this is when you start having pain and sensitivity.

This is why seeing your family dentist for regular dental exams and cleanings, complete with X-rays, is so important.

How do you know when you have one?

The signs and symptoms of a cavity can vary, depending on the cavity itself, the tooth it’s on, and the individual. One of the earliest potential signs of a cavity is a dark or pale spot on your tooth. Regularly looking at your teeth can help you spot these color changes.

As the cavity becomes more advanced, it may turn black, brown, or yellow and be even easier to see. There may not be any pain or sensitivity at all at this point.

But some cavities form between teeth or on the backsides, where you won’t be able to see them – or at least, not very easily. As an unnoticed or ignored cavity progresses, you’ll begin to notice severe pain. As it advances further, this pain will turn to more pain and sensitivity to heat, cold, and pressure.

If it reaches the center of the tooth, where the nerve ending is, you’ll have persistent intense pain and be at risk for significant trouble.

What are the possible consequences of not treating a cavity?

When a dental cavity doesn’t hurt, you might think that means you don’t need to worry about it. You might feel fixing it is purely cosmetic, and maybe cosmetic dentistry doesn’t rank high on your list of things to do right now. But even a painless cavity can lead to severe consequences.

One possible consequence is that you may need a much larger filling or a root canal to save what little of the tooth can be saved. This is a much more expensive and invasive treatment than getting a cavity treated at a much earlier stage.

Another serious consequence of not treating a cavity is an abscess. An abscess is a very severe infection that forms on a significantly decayed tooth. Abscesses can be fatal as the infection moves from the oral tissues into your bones. If you notice swelling with severe oral pain and/or pus oozing from your gums, an immediate visit to your dentist in Scottsdale is critical.

Another consequence would be extracting the tooth and installing a dental implant instead. This happens when the tooth is so badly decayed that even a root canal can’t salvage it. An implant is made up of a post and a crown. The post is placed where the tooth was, and once the tissue has healed around it, a crown is placed on top of the post. While this will salvage your smile, it’s also a very expensive procedure, especially if you weren’t planning on it.

Consequences that go beyond your mouth include respiratory infections, diabetes and dementia.

How long can a cavity be left untreated?

In an ideal world, your cavity wouldn’t be left untreated at all. The instant it forms, it would be treated. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that ideal world. We live in an imperfect world that relies on X-rays and attention to our mouths to notice when cavities are forming.

This means that when you first notice a cavity, it may be new or it may be weeks or months old. So once you notice the cavity, it’s imperative that you schedule an appointment with a low-cost dentist as soon as possible to get it treated.

The longer it’s left untreated, the bigger the chances of more serious consequences.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment for a dental cavity depends on its severity. If it’s caught in the earliest stage, you may be able to do a simple fluoride treatment to resolve it. 

The next treatment option is a filling or restoration of the tooth. This is done for mild to moderate cavities. The dentist drills away decayed material and replaces it with a filling material that matches the surrounding tooth/teeth.

After that, if the cavity is more severe, you may need a crown. A crown happens when too much of the tooth is decayed and there’s not enough tooth left to hold a filling in place. Instead, the dentist removes the visible part of the tooth and replaces it with a crown. Crowns vary in strength and price depending on the material used and often need to be replaced after a number of years.

The final options are a root canal or tooth extraction. A root canal involves drilling out the damaged pulp of the tooth and then filling it or placing a crown on it. Tooth extraction removes the tooth and you can either leave the gap or have a dental implant put in instead.

A dental cavity may seem like just a minor inconvenience. But they’re actually a sign of deep trouble. You can prevent cavities by engaging in proper dental care at home and attending regularly scheduled appointments at the best dental care clinic in Scottsdale AZ. And when you do find a cavity, don’t delay getting it treated. Your mouth, and the rest of your body, will thank you.