Cavities are a common dental malady that can be a simple fix, if caught early! Tooth decay is a great example of why it is so important to maintain regular visits to your dental office for professional cleanings and examinations on a regular basis. The sooner the cavity is caught, the easier (and less expensive!) it is to fix.
During your routine professional cleaning, your dentist will perform a complete examination of all of your teeth, using instruments to detect any soft or “sticky” areas in your teeth. They will also study your dental x-rays to make sure that all of the teeth are healthy. Any decay will show up on your x-rays even if it is in between two teeth. During this examination, it is important to express any issues you have been experiencing with your teeth including any sensitivity.
If your dentist does detect decay, it is important to proceed with any treatment that they advise so that the area does not get worse. Left untreated, a small cavity can quickly grow and can even spread to neighboring teeth. The longer decay is left unrestored, more invasive treatment may be necessary to restore the area and save the tooth.
There are a number of options available for restoring tooth decay, depending on the extent. Small cavities may require a simple filling whereas larger areas could require an onlay or crown. Below is a list of treatments in more detail.
- Composite fillings are used to restore a small area of decay. Your dentist will drill out the affected area and do use a tooth-colored composite material to fill the space. Once the material is applied, an ultraviolet light is used to cure the material and is smoothed and polished.
- Porcelain onlays are used for larger areas of decay on the occlusal surface in your molars and premolars. The occlusal surface is the flat part that we use to chew food on our back teeth.
- Dental crowns are placed on teeth when decay is too extensive for a simple filling or onlay. They are also used to save a tooth that has fractured or had a root canal. Dental crowns are usually made from porcelain that can be tinted to match your teeth though if needed or preferred, metal may also be used. A crown covers the entire surface of the tooth to just below the gumline.
In the event that decay reaches the pulp of the tooth, you may require a root canal therapy. Your dentist will refer you to an endodontist to perform the treatment before restoring the tooth with a crown. Root canal therapy removes the pulp of the tooth to remove the infection causing your pain.
The last resort for fixing a cavity is extracting the tooth. Sometimes, decay can be so extensive or a tooth can be fractured beyond repair and will require extraction to maintain the health of surrounding teeth. If you do have to have a tooth extracted, it can be replaced with a dental bridge or dental implant.
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