What Happens When a Cavity is Left Untreated?

 In Family Dentistry

Do you know what happens when a cavity is left untreated?

When visiting the dentist, everyone’s worst fear is hearing the words, “You have a cavity.”  The important thing to remember, though, is that it can easily be taken care of before things get out of control.  See, cavities are a sign of tooth decay. Sure, some are tempted to do nothing with early warning signs, but cavity progression due to non-action can lead to some very real trouble for not only your oral health but your overall health.  

The good news is that severe tooth damage doesn’t simply happen overnight.  In fact, there are several stages in the tooth decay process, and really, it takes quite a bit of effort and mistreatment (or non-action) to actually result in a cavity or worse.  If you’re diligent with your oral care, you can even reverse the effects of degeneration and correct the cavity track altogether. But, you have to know what you’re facing. So, let’s take a look at the stages of cavity progression.  

5 Stages of Cavity Progression

We already know that repeated exposure to damaging substances like sugar and acids will break down tooth enamel.  But, what does that actually look like in terms of cavity development? These are the stages of progression and what your body will be trying to tell you:       

  • Stage 1:  Demineralization – In the early stages of damage, you’ll start to see the effects being done by sugars and acids on your tooth enamel.  You’ll notice chalky white spots forming that may become darker with time. These spots mean that your enamel is demineralizing due to a loss of calcium.  
  • Stage 2:  Enamel Decay – Surface enamel will continue to erode until the decay breaks through the surface.  You may start to experience some sensitivity or pain, or you may not feel anything at all in which case only your dentist will be able to recognize the damage.  At this point, you’ll probably need a filling to stop the bacteria progression and restore a protective layer.
  • Stage 3:  Dentin Decay – When cavity progression gets to this stage, you’ll start to feel pain, as the decay will have reached your nerves.  This means that decay is going deeper into your tooth, rapidly destroying the softer dentin layer just below your enamel.  
  • Stage 4:  Pulpal Decay – This is when pain may really set in, and you’re sure to know that something’s wrong!  If decay has gotten this far, then you’re going to need a root canal to clean out the bacterial infection.  Pus will be irritating the tissues, causing blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue in the pulp to die.
  • Stage 5:  Abscess Formation – In this final stage of cavity progression, the pulp is damaged.  This leaves bacteria and decaying pulp remnants open to infection at the tip of a tooth’s root which causes a pus-filled pocket to form.  With this, you’re likely to experience swelling and lots of pain!

Cavity progression takes time, but once things get to a certain point, the damage has been done.  That’s why early detection and proactive measures are essential to saving not only your smile but time and money.  So, even if you’re in the early stages of cavity progression, take action now! Preventive care is the best care. Stick to daily cleanings, keep your bi-annual dental appointments, and eat a well-balanced diet to keep your oral care in top shape so that you can avoid costly pain and treatment down the road.


Recent Posts
children's dentist chicago, pediatric dentist, family dentistsensitive teeth