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Cavities are holes that develop as a result of tooth decay—and they’re a serious oral health bummer. Not only are they painful, but they can contribute to other long-term health issues, damaging the overall structure of your mouth. Unfortunately, many people neglect to treat their cavities until it is too late. This often happens due to a fear of the dentist, financial concerns, or just a busy schedule. Neglecting to treat a cavity has significant long-term consequences. At Mill Dam Dental Care, we frequently treat patients with cavities in our Virginia Beach office. We recommend treating cavities as soon as possible to keep your mouth healthy. Here’s what happens if a cavity goes untreated, and why prompt treatment is so important.

The Stages of a Cavity

When left untreated, cavities will naturally progress through a series of stages. While they may not seem like a big deal at first, they will quickly spread and cause more debilitating symptoms.

Early Stages

In the early stages of a cavity, you may not feel much pain. However, there are some tell-tale signs to watch for. One of the first signs of a cavity is sensitivity, particularly to extremely hot or cold foods. You might also experience mild discomfort when pressing on the tooth.

Other early signs of a cavity include tooth discoloration and bad breath. Halitosis happens when food gets stuck in the cavity. The food breaks down and attracts bacteria, causing an unpleasant odor. Tooth discoloration may initially look like chalky white, brown, or black stain.

Pulp Infection

As the cavity progresses, you may develop pulpitis, or a pulp infection. As the cavity gets larger, food and bacteria enters the tooth. This irritates the soft tissue, or pulp, on the inside of your tooth, causing an infection.

The most common symptom of pulpitis is sensitivity to hot and cold foods. As the infection progresses, you’ll start to feel a more intense, throbbing pain. If the pulpitis is caught early enough, your dentist can treat the cavity and resolve the infection. However, once the infection spreads, the tooth won’t be able to recover.

Abscess Formation

If the cavity is still not treated after pulpitis develops, the infection can spread and an abscess can form. An abscess is a pocket of pus that develops as a result of bacteria in a given area. Cavity-related abscesses usually form at the base of the root of the tooth.

You usually won’t be able to see the abscess, but you will be able to feel it. Abscesses cause a very intense toothache, and they can even cause swelling and fever as they progress. They also result in a very strong unpleasant odor and taste in your mouth.

Tooth Loss

If your cavity isn’t treated in a reasonable amount of time, your dentist will have no choice but to pull the tooth. It’s also possible for severely decayed teeth to fall out on their own.

Not only can tooth loss result in pain and discomfort, but you’ll also require further medical treatment to maintain the structure of your mouth. Many patients require tooth implants or bridges after tooth loss.

Infection Spreads

The infection from your cavity can spread from your tooth to other parts of your body. At first, the infection might spread to your gums and other tissues in your jaw and sinuses. In extreme cases, it could spread to your cardiovascular system or even your brain, causing sepsis and other life-threatening problems.

The Cost of Cavities

Many people avoid treating their cavities due to financial concerns. However, it’s much more affordable to get preventative dental care and treat cavities right when they occur. Removing a tooth or treating an infection after it spreads is much more expensive than treating a cavity early on. If your cavity spreads, you may also need to pay for ongoing tooth repair and treatment, which comes with additional costs. If you’re concerned about the cost of cavity treatment, talk to your dentist. Depending on your situation, they may be able to offer payment plans or other financial solutions. 

Another reason why many people avoid cavity treatment is a fear of the dentist. Your dentist will provide appropriate pain management for your treatment, but if you’re still feeling anxious, ask about sedation options. Mill Dam Dental Care offers a variety of sedation options to keep you comfortable during your treatment.

What Happens if a Cavity Goes Untreated Patient

How to Identify and Prevent Cavities

Many early-stage cavities don’t have symptoms. Because of this, it’s very important to visit your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Through X-rays and physical examinations, your dentist can identify cavities and recommend appropriate treatment options. You should also visit the dentist if you notice abnormal sensitivity or other symptoms of tooth decay.

There are several things you can do at home to prevent cavities from developing. Brush and floss your teeth regularly to prevent plaque from building up in your mouth. You may also need to use a fluoride rinse to strengthen your teeth—ask your dentist if this is necessary for you.

Keep sugary drinks and snacks to a minimum. These can make your teeth more prone to cavities, particularly if you aren’t brushing right after eating. Keep floss with you when you’re out and about so you can remove any food that gets stuck in your teeth.

Treat Your Cavities With Mill Dam Dental Care

Proactive dental care will help prevent frustrating and painful cavities. Don’t leave a cavity untreated, as it could have serious health consequences later on. If you need more information about what happens when a cavity goes untreated or are looking for dental care in Virginia Beach, get in touch with Mill Dam Dental Care today. Our caring team will help you get the cavity treatment or other care you need right away.