A female patient and male dentist are looking at the ex ray

If You Need Tooth Decay Treatment, Don’t Wait

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

“It can wait.” That’s what you may be thinking (to yourself) after you’ve learned from your dentist that you have a cavity. The truth is (and we know your dentist will agree), it can’t wait.

Tooth decay doesn’t get better. It only gets worse. Here’s why you should take care of that cavity sooner than later.

The Start of Tooth Decay

It all begins innocently enough. You don’t even know it’s happening. You eat something. Then, bacterial plaque forms on your teeth and uses the food you ate to create acids. These acids slowly break down the hard enamel covering your teeth. The decay penetrates through your tooth layers. And, voila. You have a cavity.

Signs and Severity of Tooth Decay

At first, you won’t even notice you have a cavity. After all, you can’t see a cavity. And at this stage, it won’t hurt.

However, once the decay makes it through your tooth's enamel and reaches the dentin layer, ouch! You’ll know it. Your dentin is made up of tiny nerve endings sensitive to hot, cold, sweet, sticky, and sour foods. It may also be uncomfortable when you’re biting down or chewing. That’s because food is getting trapped between your teeth.

Decay spreads fast through dentin because it’s much softer than your tooth enamel. Root decay happens quickly too. That’s why your pain will become more severe and frequent.

If the decay and bacteria reach the pulp portion (nerves and blood vessels) of your tooth, you’ll get an infection known as an abscess. According to the American Dental Association, an abscessed tooth can lead to a serious infection that can affect other parts of your mouth, including your jawbone. Symptoms of an abscess can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Gum redness
  • A bad taste in your mouth
  • Puss drainage

Tooth Decay Treatment

Your treatment will match the extent of the decay. If your dentist catches the problem early – a small area of enamel erosion before it reaches the dentin, he or she may recommend a repair treatment – maybe even at home. Mouthrinses, toothpaste, or filling materials that contain fluoride, calcium, and phosphates may be your solution. These would be thought of as early decay cavity prevention treatments.

If you've developed a small cavity, it can be repaired with an amalgam filling (made of silver and other metals) or tooth-colored resin. If the cavity is large and your tooth has lost structure, your dentist may decide you need a crown. Crowns are more expensive than fillings, but they strengthen your tooth and restore shape and function.

If your tooth is abscessed, your dentist will refer you to an endodontist for a root canal. Here’s information from the ADA on what you can expect. With root canal treatment, teeth can become more brittle and break easily. If you lost a lot of tooth structure due to decay, your dentist might also recommend a crown after the root canal treatment.

If your tooth cannot be saved with a root canal, your dentist will need to extract it.

Listen to your dentist. Catching and treating decay today will keep you out of the endodontist’s chair tomorrow. Regular dental appointments and good oral hygiene care at home, including brushing and flossing between your teeth, may keep you smiling and cavity-free even longer.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

paper airplane

Want more tips and offers sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up now

Mobile Top Image
Was this article helpful?

Thank you for submitting your feedback!

If you’d like a response, Contact Us.

Mobile Bottom Image