Developing into small holes or openings, cavities are areas of permanent damage to the tooth surface. Known also as tooth decay or caries, cavities are caused by several factors including bacteria in the mouth, consuming sugary foods or drinks, frequent snacking, and improperly cleaning the teeth.
Amongst the most common health problems in the world, tooth decay and cavities can form in patients of all ages but are particularly common in children, teens, and the elderly. If left untreated, cavities grow and affect deeper tooth layers leading to infection, severe toothaches, and tooth loss. Regular dental visits along with proper flossing and brushing routines are the best ways to prevent tooth decay.
Despite best efforts, cavities can still form in which case, patients are likely curious about treatment options.
How are Cavities Treated?
Like other dental conditions, diagnosing tooth decay or cavities early offers the best chance for treatment. As such, regular checkups are advised to catch tooth decay in its earliest stages before cavities form. If caught before symptoms or pain develop, extensive treatment likely won’t be needed for the cavity.
The severity of the patient’s tooth decay or cavity ultimately dictates what treatment options will be available.
- Fluoride Treatments: Tooth decay begins when minerals are removed from the tooth’s hard outer enamel. For a cavity in its earliest stage, fluoride treatments could help restore tooth enamel and potentially reverse any damage that has occurred. While fluoride can be found in tap water, mouth rinses, and toothpastes, professional treatments contain higher fluoride concentrations. Treatments can be a liquid, gel, varnish, or foam that is applied to the teeth directly or placed in trays that fit over the teeth.
- Fillings: Fillings, or restorations, are the primary treatment method when tooth decay advances beyond its earliest stage. Various materials are used for fillings including porcelain, dental amalgam, or tooth-colored resins. Choice of material generally comes down to cost, patient preference, appearance, and durability.
- Crowns: If decay has extensively damaged or weakened teeth, a crown may be needed to restore the tooth. Crowns are custom fitted to replace the tooth’s natural crown and can be made of porcelain, porcelain fused to metal, resin, gold, or other materials. To place the crown, the dentist will remove the decayed area and shape the tooth to allow proper fit of the crown.
- Root Canal: In severe cases where decay advances to the inner tooth material (pulp), a root canal procedure may be needed. This goal with this procedure is to repair a badly infected tooth rather than removing it. During the root canal, diseased pulp tissue is removed, medication is placed to clear up any infection, and a filling is then used to replace the pulp.
- Tooth Extraction: It is possible for a tooth to be so severely decayed that it cannot be restored. In situations like this, the tooth will likely need to be extracted (removed). Because the extracted tooth will leave a gap, other teeth can shift leading to other dental issues. Replacing the missing tooth with a dental implant or bridge can avoid these complications.