What can happen if I don’t get my cavities filled?

Cavities or holes in teeth are also known as tooth decay or caries. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth and over time, enamel, the hard outer layer of your tooth, can break down exposing the sensitive dentine underneath. Left untreated, holes in teeth continue to grow bigger resulting in moderate or severe toothache and even the eventual loss of the tooth.

Can’t cavities fix themselves?

Cavities are a progressive condition which never get better without treatment.  Unlike the rest of your body, your teeth are not protected by your immune system, so they don’t have a natural ability to fight infection. Preventing your teeth from cavities occurring is always the best option.

When a cavity is in its early stages of formation, you may be not be aware that it is occurring as the enamel outer layer of the tooth doesn’t contain any nerves to alert you to the problem.  Early cavities are usually picked up during regular dental examinations or via dental x-rays and are best treated at this stage as treatment options are generally less complex and less expensive.

A cavity left to grow bigger will eventually reach the dentine, the inner sensitive part of the tooth and cause tooth ache which can range from mild to severe, especially in reaction to cold food and drinks.

If left for a prolonged length of time, the tooth becomes increasingly fragile, risking fracture of the tooth, and allowing food to become trapped within, which will eventually lead to infection of the nerves at the centre of the tooth.

Unfortunately, once this takes place, this can then result in the formation of an abscess causing constant pain or swelling of the face. When decay affects the nerves of the tooth, root canal therapy or tooth extraction become the only effective treatment.  

It is important to make an appointment with your dentist if you have any pain from your teeth to avoid the problem escalating and potentially becoming more expensive. Book an appointment with your dentist today and ask them to check your teeth for cavities.

How would I know if I have a cavity?

In the early stages of a cavity forming, you may not have any symptoms. Generally, toothache or pain when chewing and sensitivity to cold and hot foods and drinks are the early signs of a cavity. Some people experience gum swelling, bad breath or an unpleasant taste in their mouth.  In the early stages of a cavity developing, spots or discolouration can sometimes be seen on the surface of the tooth.

Risk factors for getting cavities

Anyone with teeth is at risk of getting cavities. However, some factors can increase the likelihood of cavities forming.  Infrequent or ineffective tooth brushing, not flossing and insufficient fluoride can all increase the risk.  A diet high in sugary or acidic food and drinks is a major component of the risk factors in developing cavities. Hormonal changes e.g., during pregnancy and/or menopause causing a dry mouth, gum recession or other mouth changes are also risk factors.

It’s not always possible to avoid cavities forming, though early detection prevents decay affecting the deeper layers of the teeth and reducing the risk of more complex dental problems. Regular dental check-ups are a perfect opportunity for early detection of cavities.

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Children and cavities

Children are prone to cavities, which left untreated, can affect their development and speech. Children benefit from regular dental check-ups, ideally starting before their second birthday.  Early detection and treatment of cavities can help to retain baby teeth in their correct position, helping their permanent teeth to be correctly aligned. Speak with your child’s dentist about fissure sealants – resin barriers which   provide a barrier to the bacteria which cause plaque. Book an appointment today.

What happens when a cavity is filled?

Filling a cavity is done in a number of steps. Your dentist will examine your mouth and take X-rays to determine the extent of the decay and the area they need to focus on.  You’ll be offered numbing options to help you feel as comfortable as possible. Your dentist will clean and remove the decay from the tooth. A filling material will be placed into the space and then shaped and polished, so it is smooth. The type of material used will depend on the location of the tooth and how much wear and tear it’s exposed to. Your dentist will talk with you about your options.  You’ll be asked to bite down gently to make sure the filling is not too high and to check the level is correct and is not affecting your bite.


Cavities/tooth decay – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic

Dental checks for young children – Better Health Channel

Dental fissure sealants | healthdirect

News & Media – Australian Dental Association (ada.org.au)

Tooth decay | healthdirect

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