Are Cavities Considered a Dental Emergency?

Are Cavities Considered a Dental Emergency?

Maybe you don’t think cavities are a dental emergency. Well, think again!

Suppose you have a nagging toothache. It’s probably a cavity, and if you’ve had one before, you might not think it’s a big deal. 

However, a dental cavity can be a dental emergency if you wait too long to treat it. Not only will quick treatment relieve your pain, but it’ll save your tooth, too. If you feel the first signs of a cavity, call your dentist as soon as possible.

What is a cavity?

Dental cavities, or caries, develop when a sticky layer of plaque attaches to the surface of the teeth after eating and drinking sugary foods and liquids. The longer plaque stays on the teeth, the more chance it has to combine with bacteria and form an acid. The acid then erodes the tooth’s enamel, which leads to tooth decay, or a cavity.

A cavity may not produce any noticeable symptoms in the earliest stages. But as the decay wears down the enamel, you’ll feel an ache, sensitivity to hot and cold, and pain when biting down on the tooth. You may also see pits or grooves in the tooth or black, brown, or white spots on the tooth’s surface.

A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association estimates about 20 percent of U.S. adults have untreated dental caries. Broken down by age group, 13.2 percent of young people aged five to 19 have untreated cavities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Meanwhile, over 25 percent of adults aged 20 to 64 have untreated caries, with 20.2 percent of adults 65 and over in the same category. 

As those statistics show, cavities can strike at any age. If left untreated, decay burrows further into the tooth, leading to more intense pain, an infection, and, quite possibly, tooth loss. 

When decay reaches the inner pulp, a root canal with a crown is the standard treatment. If the cavity becomes so large, the tooth may need to be extracted. So it’s best to consider a cavity as an emergency and get it taken care of as soon as possible to avoid those more extensive and expensive procedures.

How cavities are treated

Thankfully, most cavities can be treated before the decay reaches the pulp. In fact, cavities can be reversed in the earliest stages with fluoride treatments to strengthen the enamel. No filling is needed.

But if you need a filling, your dentist will scoop out the decay and fill it with a tooth-colored substance made of a composite resin, porcelain, or a dental amalgam. The filling may consist of a combination of materials. With local anesthesia, fillings are painless.

If you are prone to decay, your dentist may prescribe fluoride treatments. A custom tray fitted over your teeth applies the fluoride directly to the teeth. Or, you can have a dental sealant brushed on the back teeth, where decay most often occurs, to prevent cavities. Dental sealants are recommended for young children.

But why wait until a cavity becomes a dental emergency? Brushing and flossing daily reduces the amount of decay-causing plaque on the teeth. Always use fluoridated toothpaste, and rinse with fluoride-filled mouthwash. If you snack on a sweet treat, remember to brush your teeth soon afterward. 

Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of those recommended twice-yearly appointments for a cleaning and checkup. That way, your dentist can spot a cavity before it becomes a dental emergency. 

Get your cavity treated now!

Schedule an appointment at Espire’s La Mesa location today! Our highly trained dentists can check your teeth and fill in any cavities before they cause further complications. Don’t live near our La Mesa, CA, office? Find one of our other locations near you.

La Mesa, CA
8555 Fletcher Pkwy. 
Suite 102 
La Mesa, CA 91942