Cavities are among the most common oral healthcare concerns, yet the average patient knows very little about what they actually are and the damage they can do if left untreated. Patients will often come to expect getting bad news about cavities at semi-annual cleaning appointments, but wonder about how quickly they should act to get it filled; or even worse, put it off in their mind as a nonconcern. Your dentist may wish to schedule you for a treatment session at your next available opportunity, and you might reluctantly decide to put that off for a few weeks, months, and even years.
However, learning some facts about the progression of cavities might help alter the instilled notion of waiting. A look at the basic concept of a cavity as an acid that eats away tooth structure makes it clear that the best time to treat cavities is as soon as your dentist recommends to — otherwise, you can let the cycle of decay get out of hand, leading to bigger problems further down the road.
To understand why you should treat cavities sooner than later, it can be helpful to first look at how cavities develop in the first place and how they progress.
Understanding the Development Cycle of Cavities
Cavities begin when acids, including those introduced to the mouth through eating and drinking, those produced by bacteria in the mouth, and even acid produced the gut in patients with acid reflux. The acid proceeds to eat away the enamel—the hardest surface in the body—of your teeth. The first stage of a cavity or decay is called "incipient," and it occurs when the process of "demineralization" of the enamel begins. At this stage, the decay is not very advance and is localized to the enamel. Now, remember, we mentioned that the enamel is the hardest surface in the body, so it may take some time for the cavity to get through this hard layer. Mitigating measures such as diligent brushing, flossing, or fluoride treatment is done early on with incipient cavities can reverse the demineralization process and actually re-strengthen the tooth — eliminating the need for a traditional "drill and fill" procedure. Your dentist may often recommend monitoring these incipient lesions because, unless they get worse, she would need to remove more tooth structures than the actual size of the incipient cavity to do a proper filling.
Left unchecked, however, an incipient cavity can develop into a hole that exposes the "dentin" of the tooth. The exposure of dentin is the second stage of a cavity and marks the point where a filling becomes necessary to repair the tooth. Dentin, as the second layer of the tooth, actually wears and erodes 6-8x faster than the strong outer enamel shell, meaning the cavity can grow quickly at this point and should be treated as soon as possible. If you continue to ignore the cavity, it can travel into the tooth's pulp, ultimately causing an infection that will require a root canal to correct.
Spotting Cavities at Home Can Be Very Difficult
Time is one reason why it is so important to treat cavities quickly. There is no easy way to know exactly how long you've had a developing cavity since they are often hidden from plain view and are typically not painful. As a result, your semi-annual check-up and cleaning is your dentist's opportunity to identify these problems as they develop over several months. Once your dentist identifies an incipient cavity or a more serious issue, you should not allow the problem any more time to worsen.
Treatment Should Commence as Soon as Possible
As mentioned, it is now possible for your dentist to address early-stage cavities without a filling procedure. One such historically successful procedure involves sealing the deep grooves and pits in back molar teeth, sites where cavities tend to form first. Another such procedure is the remineralization of natural tooth structure with fluoride varnish which is painted and left on the teeth for several hours or applied in a tray for one minute. For patients at a much higher risk of developing cavities, highly fluoridated toothpaste can be prescribed in conjunction with the aforementioned procedures. When you do need a filling, modern techniques ensure the process is quick, and healing is rapid. Keep the words "root canal" off your to-do list by taking a proactive perspective towards correcting cavities, even (and especially) when they aren't yet serious.
Seeking Help With Tooth Decay Today
If you already know that you have one or more cavities, don't wait until you start experiencing pain and discomfort before seeking out a treatment option that's reliable and convenient to you. Dr. Nargiz I. Zadeh's practice is both conveniently located and well-appointed. Fully equipped with the latest in dental technology and armed with a wealth of education and hands-on experience, Dr. Zadeh provides patients with confidence, comfort, and state-of-the-art techniques to ensure long-lasting restorations. Contact us at your convenience to discuss making arrangements for services you may need.