A tooth cavity, also known as dental caries, is caused by the breakdown of tooth enamel and dentin by acid-producing bacteria. More than 80% of Americans have at least one cavity by the time they enter their mid-thirties. Cavities are one of the most common chronic dental diseases that affect all ages. Preventative treatment measures and regular preventative habits can keep them from forming, but if they are left untreated, the decay will quietly worsen.
The keyword is quietly. Dental cavities, or tooth decay, typically do not cause pain or discomfort in the early stages of their development. This can lead many patients to feel as if it isn’t a serious disease — but they’re wrong. As the decay progresses and the cavity becomes larger, it may start to cause sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures, or sweet foods and drinks. In the later stages, the cavity can reach the tooth’s nerve, causing pain, toothache, and infection. In some cases, the decay may even progress to the extent that the tooth may be unsalvageable, and require extraction.
WATCH: “What is a cavity?”
Our mouth contains millions of bacteria. Moreover, many Americans consume foods and drinks high in sugars and harsh chemicals, all of which contribute to tooth decay. All cavities will keep growing unless they are fixed. Fixing cavities as soon as they are caught with the proper recommended treatment is the most practical and affordable way to prevent more expensive and invasive treatment later down the line.
Do keep this in mind: our oral health affects our overall health, too. Fixing cavities instead of allowing them to grow will improve our health overall. Letting them fester, on the other hand, will have a negative impact.
The Consequences of Not Fixing Cavities
Most cavities have no pain or noticeable symptoms until the cavity reaches the middle part of the tooth, where the nerve resides. When that happens, the decay will have advanced far enough to require a root canal, or even worse, a removal — which would mean that the tooth would need to be replaced with a dental implant.
WATCH: “What is a deep cavity?”
Most cavities that dentists diagnose are caught in the early stages, meaning that they can be fixed with dental fillings. This prevents the need for expensive treatment, or more complex procedures such as root canals or replacement with a dental implant. This is why it is extremely important that patients follow through with recommended treatment for early-stage cavities when they are first caught. If they are left untreated, the treatment options will only get more expensive, and more intensive. It is in the patient’s best interest to treat their cavities as soon as they can, instead of holding off until they feel the discomfort associated with the later stages.
WATCH: “Should Your Cavity Hurt?”
Moreover, as cavities inevitably get worse and worse, they also get more and more expensive. It is far less expensive to treat an early cavity than it is a late-stage cavity. Take a look below at the estimated costs of a cavity depending on how deep it has gone:
Educating Patients About Cavities
Many patients do not have a full understanding of tooth decay or why cavities are so dangerous to leave untreated. Because cavities show no signs in their early stages, and some cavities (especially those between the teeth or those under existing fillings) are hard to spot with the naked eye, it is important that the patients get regular dental exams, and follow through with treatment promptly when a cavity is spotted. Take a look at the images below for examples.
WATCH: “Tooth Decay Under a Crown”
Take a look at the videos below for examples of some of the common questions that you might expect to hear from patients. Take note of the answers given, and use them to your own benefit when addressing patient concerns.
Commonly asked question #1: “Can you fix cavities at home?” (WATCH)
Commonly asked question #2: “Can I get a cavity under dental fillings?” (WATCH)
Commonly asked question #3: “I have a cavity. Do I need a root canal?” (WATCH)
To learn even more about cavities, here are some more educational materials for your perusal.