People avoid dental treatment for many reasons. For some, the cost puts them off, others fear pain, and former patients sometimes develop a dental phobia due to an earlier negative experience at the dentist. It isn't just adults; however, that walk around with untreated cavities. In Australia, 1 in 4 children under the age of 10 have cavities in need of a dentist's healing touch.
Unlike bone, enamel cannot heal itself, therefore leaving a cavity untreated for months or even years, is a one way ticket to a place of regret.
The Cavity May Cause the Tooth to Break
Your tooth could break at any time should you choose not to have it treated. The cavity, which will continue to grow unless treated, will weaken the structural integrity of your tooth. Each time you chew with that tooth, brush it, or put pressure on it in order to bite down on something hard, there is a risk that the tooth may break at the point where the cavity lies.
When this happens, your tooth will either crack or a piece may break off.
A Cavity on the Surface Will Eventually Reach the Pulpal Chamber
Whether the tooth breaks first or not, the bacteria that initially caused the cavity—via their acid—will inevitably make it to your nerve. The nerve is situated inside what is called the pulpal chamber and is responsible for keeping the tooth alive.
However, before the pulp becomes infected (pulpitis), your tooth will become sensitive to heat, cold and certain foods as the layer of dentin beneath the enamel is porous and will allow sensation to reach the nerve.
The Pulp Will Become Infected and Eventually Die
Once the pulp is infected, you will experience a constant, throbbing pain that seems to spread to other areas of your mouth, including your throat and other teeth.
It is then only a matter of time before the pulp (nerve) dies. Once dead, the pain may subside for a while, giving you some relief—but possibly not for very long.
An Abscess Will Form
With the nerve dead, and bacteria camped out inside the nerve chamber, it is only a matter of time before an abscess forms. The abscess will appear as a boil on the gum that sits over the root of the dead tooth, and as it fills up with pus it will turn white and you will once more begin to experience pain.
This abscess, known as a periapical abscess forms at the tip of an infected tooth's root and contains decaying matter, dead white blood cells and bacteria. You will feel pressure in the tooth when biting down as well as sensitivity to foods and temperature.
Although the abscess can be pierced to relieve the pressure, this is only a temporary solution.
You will Lose the Tooth and Need Dentures or Implants
If you go ahead and pop the abscess on your own, the pus will drain out and you may feel some relief for a few days or more as your body heals. However, the cause of the abscess—the bacteria feeding on the decaying nerve, remain inside your tooth and the abscess will return in time. By this point, your tooth may be so badly damaged that it cannot be replaced.
Leave it long enough and it will rot to the gumline and eventually fall out. You will then either need a partial denture or a dental implant to replace the lost tooth, both of which cost more than the filling it would have taken to stop the cavity from getting worse.
If you suspect you have a cavity, don't leave anything to chance. Call a dentist and at least book a dental examination. Your dentist will also be able to discuss any fears you might have about pain or cost and come up with some possible solutions to help you.