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Can Cavities Heal Themselves?

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a man holds his cheek while grimacing due to a toothache

There are many factors that contribute to dental decay (cavities); including the foods we eat and our daily habits. Unfortunately, if left untreated, tooth decay will get worse and could lead to extensive and expensive dental treatment. The earlier it’s caught and dealt with, the better. This is why taking good care of your teeth at home and  regular cleanings and exams are essential.

A cavity often begins developing without us noticing. By the time you realize it, the tooth decay requires a dentist’s intervention. The size of the cavity determines the type of treatment—anything from fillings to a root canal or  tooth removal in the most severe cases.

How do Cavities Develop?

The hard outer layer of your teeth is called enamel. This layer is what protects the inside of your  teeth. Throughout the day a thin, transparent layer of plaque builds on your teeth. If your teeth aren’t cleaned properly, the bacteria in the plaque can create acids from sugary foods and drinks. The acids within the plaque begin eating away at the enamel; a process called demineralization. Tiny crevices are created in the tooth, which are the beginning stages of the cavity.

If left untreated, the acid continues eating its way to the innermost parts of your teeth. Once the enamel is eroded, the inner parts of the tooth are susceptible to bacteria damage as well. As the decay progresses, you may notice various symptoms, from sensitivity to temperatures and sweets to full blown toothaches.

Signs of a Cavity

Sometimes you’ll see a cavity developing, and there will be visible holes or pits. But more often, you may notice other signs that indicate you should see a dentist as soon as possible:

  • Sudden toothache or pain
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold (sometimes to the point of pain)
  • New tooth stains, typically black, but may be brown or white
  • Pain while chewing
  • Small black spots with a rougher texture than normal

Keep in mind that once you’re experiencing these symptoms, the chances are fairly high that there is already a certain degree of damage. Ideally, your dentist will find issues during a routine cleaning before they progress to this point.

Reversing Tooth Decay

Unfortunately, once a physical cavity has formed, the enamel will not grow back on its own. On the other hand, if the tooth decay hasn’t weakened this hard coating to the point of creating a hole in your tooth, it can sometimes be reversed to a certain degree.

In addition to reversing tooth decay, these tips also apply to good oral health and assist in preventing cavities from forming.

Here are a few things you can be doing to reverse tooth decay that is just beginning:

  • Drink fluoridated water
  • Get dental sealants
  • Keep your teeth clean with a dentist-approved fluoride toothpaste
  • Use a fluoridated mouthwash
  • Minimize or eliminate your intake of sugary or acidic foods and beverages
  • Don’t smoke or consume excessive amounts of alcohol
a woman brushed her teeth with fluoridated toothpaste to prevent dental cavities

Treating a Cavity

If you don’t catch a cavity in time and aren’t able to reverse it, you still have several treatment options. During a dental examination, your dentist will be able to discuss and recommend the best treatment for your particular situation.

  • Fillings: Even if you didn’t catch it in time, a filling might still be a potential fix. This is a common procedure where the dentist removes all the decaying tooth material. Then they fill the hole with an artificial material: silver amalgam, tooth-coloured plastic, and composite resin are all common materials. 
  • Inlays and Onlays: If the cavity has progressed to a point where a filling won’t be sufficient, inlays and onlays are options depending on where the cavity is on the tooth. Your dentist will determine which one your damaged tooth needs.
  • Crowns: Another option for severely damaged teeth is getting a crown. Essentially, these are custom-fit, artificial covers that go over the top of your teeth. These are also a common treatment after receiving a root canal.
  • Root Canal: If the decay is left long enough, it can potentially damage the tooth down to the root. This is where a root canal may be the best option. The dentist will remove the pulp (inner part of the tooth) right down to the root. The area will then be filled and sealed to prevent further infection. A crown is often placed over the repaired tooth to strengthen it.
  • Tooth Extraction: Unfortunately, the final treatment option, if tooth decay is allowed to go untreated, is having the tooth pulled. Your dentist will not typically recommend this unless it’s in the best interest of your health..

Regular Dentist Visits to Prevent Cavities

According to the Canadian Dental Association, we should get dental examinations and cleanings every six months. This ensures that cavities are caught and dealt with quickly, which helps prevent them from turning into serious issues requiring intensive treatment.

If you have questions or need to book an exam, give our office a shout today. The helpful staff here at Heritage Pointe Dental are happy to answer your questions and book you in for a convenient time.

Written by Dr. Michael Trac

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