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What Happens If You Don’t Treat Your Cavity In Houston, TX?

Tooth decay might seem relatively harmless at first, but it can quickly grow out of control without proper treatment.

By Jennifer
Photography by Pete

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When a cavity strikes, you shouldn’t wait to have it looked at by a dentist. While you might not notice at first, tooth decay and infection will continue to grow and make their way deeper through your tooth. Eventually, this can put your tooth’s life, and even your own health, at risk if you’re not careful. As most of the cavities don’t cause pain in the beginning, it can be hard to realize that a problem exists. To detect early tooth decay, regular dental appointments can be of great help. However, you should also keep your eyes peeled for the warning signs yourself.

What Does a Cavity Look Like?

The signs and symptoms of dental cavities may vary, depending upon their extent and location. In some cases, early-stage tooth decay may not show any symptoms. However, more often than not, tooth decay is often visible even before a cavity forms. When decay weakens the enamel, white spots or blotches typically appear on the tooth’s surface. As the decay worsens as a tooth cavity develops, those enamel spots will gradually start to darken. Cavities can also show themselves with physical pits in the tooth’s surface, which will gradually widen and deepen if left untreated.

Cavity symptoms can also be much less visible (but no less noticeable), with many patients often experiencing:

  • Terrible and persistent toothache, which can come and go
  • Tooth pain when biting down
  • Sharp tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
  • Lingering sensitivity to sweets
  • Chronic bad breath (halitosis)

At its worst, a cavity can cause a tooth to go entirely numb. While a toothache disappearing may seem like a huge relief, it’s no such thing. This is a warning sign that your tooth is on the brink of death or may have already died.

What Are The Stages of Tooth Decay?

A cavity doesn’t suddenly appear on its own and without warning. They instead build up and worsen throughout several tooth decay stages. Once a dental cavity first appears, it won’t disappear without professional treatment. Leaving a relatively small and painless tooth cavity alone will allow it to grow and cause further decay and dental problems. Eventually, this can lead to your tooth’s death, even as the infection continues to make its way through the rest of your smile.

Here are the stages your tooth will go through if the decay isn’t seen by our dentists:

Demineralization: When excessive plaque and oral bacteria first build up on the tooth, the acids in them start to weaken the enamel by stripping it of crucial minerals like calcium. This leads to white enamel spot formation and the tooth to become more brittle. During this early stage, tooth decay can be reversed with good brushing and flossing habits and fluoride treatment.

Enamel Decay: Once the enamel is weak enough, decay starts to wear away at the tooth’s surface. The small holes the decay creates are cavities. At this stage, most people do not feel any pain or sensitivity since only the hardy enamel is involved. However, great dental hygiene habits won’t be enough to fix the damage anymore. The tooth will need a cavity filling to restore it to its old self.

Dentin Decay: If the cavity isn’t treated at the enamel stage, it will continue to deepen until it breaks through the enamel entirely and moves into the tooth’s middle dentin layer. The dentin is softer and more sensitive than the enamel, so you may feel some minor tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet foods.

Destruction of the Pulp: After the dentin layer comes the dental pulp. The pulp is the most sensitive part of the tooth because it contains the nerves and blood vessels, extending down the tooth’s roots to the tip. You will likely experience a painful and persistent toothache at this late stage. As more of the dental pulp is infected, the more your tooth’s health is at risk. If enough is destroyed, the tooth can die. Once the pulp becomes infected, your dentist will need to perform a root canal.

Tooth Abscess Formation: When cavities extend to the pulp, it can cause the pulp to become inflamed and eventually create a dental abscess at the tooth’s tip. Abscesses are painful pockets of pus and infection which will need to be safely drained with a root canal. In some cases, the tooth will instead need to be removed. If left untreated, the abscess can rupture, causing the infection to spread throughout the mouth or even the rest of the body. At its worst, a ruptured abscess can be life-threatening.

Treating Your Cavity

The sooner you see a dentist for your cavity, the better chance we have of fixing your tooth with more conservative and less extensive treatment. Do all cavities need to be filled? Yes. Once a cavity appears, it will need to be seen by a dentist to remove the decay and fill the damage left behind. However, this doesn’t always require a tooth filling. Depending on the extent of the damage to your tooth, you may instead need a dental crown or root canal. In worst-case scenarios, however, there may be no saving your tooth, and it will need tooth extraction instead.

Depending on your cavity’s severity, your dentist may need to perform one of these treatments:

Cavity Filling

A cavity filling is needed once a cavity first appears. A dentist will use a drill to precisely remove the infected parts of the tooth before filling the hole left behind with composite resin. The liquid resin is shaped to the of your old tooth before being hardened with a curing light and polished. Traditionally, dentists would use silver dental amalgam for fillings, but aesthetic and health concerns have led to them being largely left in the past. Composite fillings are designed to match the exact shade of your tooth. With good care, they typically last about five to seven years.

Dental Crown

Dental crowns are required once the decay covers an extensive part of your tooth. Crowns are sturdier than fillings and can take much more bite force and pressure since they encompass the entire tooth’s surface and are made of more durable materials. The dental crown procedure is similar to fillings. The decay is removed, and the crown is placed to restore the tooth to its old shape and function. However, crowns also require tooth reshaping to fit them, and a temporary crown or filling will be needed during the two or three weeks your permanent crown is prepared.

Some of the most common types of crowns are porcelain, porcelain-fused-to-metal, base metals, and gold. Porcelain-type crowns last an average 10 to 15 years but can stay in great shape for as long as 25 years. Base metal crowns often last around 30 years. Gold crowns are the longest-lasting, having a lifespan of around 50 years or even a lifetime with good care.

Root Canal

Once the tooth infection reaches the centermost dental pulp, a root canal becomes necessary. Since the pulp is more sensitive than any other part of the tooth, a specialist called an endodontist is often needed to painlessly and precisely remove the decayed tissues. During this procedure, an endodontist will remove the infected tissues, which may require clearing out an entire tooth canal or draining a dental abscess. In many cases, a root canal can prevent a dental worst-case scenario: tooth extraction.

Once all of the decay is gone, the inner tooth is cleaned before being filled with a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Then, the hollow tooth is reinforced and sealed with a dental crown or filling. Crowns are the best option as they are the strongest and most durable, protecting your tooth against further infection and damage for decades rather than years.

Can Dental Problems Cause Health Issues?

With later tooth decay stages, infection doesn’t stay confined to the mouth, especially if a tooth abscess bursts. Once the bacteria reaches the bloodstream, it can make its mark on the rest of your body. In some cases, it can be life-threatening. Symptoms of tooth infection spreading to the body include:

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, sweats, and chills
  • Facial swelling, which can make it difficult to open your mouth
  • Swelling of the cheeks and neck
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion

Not all cases are quite this severe. However, a history of severe tooth infections can do a number on your general health. Poor dental health has been linked to heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and even complications during pregnancy.

Do you need to see one of our dentists at Nu Dentistry for immediate tooth cavity treatment? Please don’t hesitate to call our Houston dental office right away at (832) 916-4144 to schedule an appointment with us.

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