If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That old saying may apply to a lot of things, but when it comes to cavities, it’s just plain bad advice. Many people are often surprised to find out that they have a cavity, because they don’t feel any pain. In fact, some of the biggest cavities are completely painless. Still, treating a cavity early is better and often less costly than waiting until pain occurs. Not fixing a cavity could lead to more serious dental problems like advanced tooth decay and oral abscesses or infections.
So, how can you have a cavity without feeling any pain? There’s a simple explanation.
How tooth decay works
The structure of the tooth is somewhat like a layer cake. The outermost layer is the enamel, the hardest layer of your tooth. The next layer is called the dentin, and the innermost layer is the pulp. The pulp is the softest layer and is also where the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth are found. When a cavity forms, it starts on the outermost and hardest layer of the tooth, and if untreated, will gradually work its way deeper and deeper into the center of the tooth. A tooth that is in the early stages of decay and has not yet reached the tooth’s center may not necessarily hurt.
Different types of cavities (why some do / don’t cause pain)
There are two main types of cavities – reversible and irreversible. Cavities that exist within the enamel only and have not penetrated to the deeper layers of the tooth can usually be reversed with the use of fluoride. Enamel-only cavities usually don’t need to be filled and don’t cause pain, since there are no sensitive nerve endings in the enamel.
Irreversible cavities have penetrated to the next layer of the tooth – the dentin. Like enamel, dentin does not contain any nerve endings, so cavities that have reached the dentin layer are also painless. However, if left untreated, this type of tooth decay will continue to get worse until it reaches the pulp, where the nerves and blood vessels reside. This is when tooth pain appears. A late-stage cavity may cause pain when chewing or when consuming hot or cold food or beverages. There may even be pain when you are not eating or drinking. An untreated cavity can eventually lead to an infection and the development of an abscess at the root of the tooth, which can cause throbbing pain.
Why it’s better to fix cavities early
Like many other medical conditions, if you catch a cavity at an early stage, it is much easier to treat. If you already feel pain, this means that the cavity has progressed to an advanced stage that will likely:
- Weaken your tooth
- Cause severe oral pain and limit your ability to enjoy eating and drinking
- Require a costly and painful root canal to remove the affected pulp tissue
Waiting to treat a cavity will only end up costing more money, time and pain in the long run.
Cavity prevention tips
Of course the best way to keep a cavity from causing you pain is to prevent cavities from forming at all. Here’s how:
- Use fluoride toothpaste everyday
- Have your dentist place a protective sealant over your teeth
- Brush and floss daily to get rid of cavity-causing plaque
- Avoid sugary and sticky foods
Don’t let an untreated cavity cause you unnecessary pain and cost you unnecessary money. Schedule a dental checkup with us today to make sure your teeth stay healthy and cavity-free!