How long can you leave a cavity untreated?

What is a cavity, and which symptoms should you watch for? How long can a cavity go untreated before complications develop? Our Edmonton dentists share some facts.

What is a cavity?

Also referred to as caries or tooth decay, cavities are damaged areas in the hard surfaces of your teeth that develop into tiny holes or openings. 

Snacking on sugary foods or drinks, dry mouth, not maintaining a good oral hygiene routine and the buildup of plaque and bacteria in your mouth are all common causes of this type of tooth damage.

Other health issues such as eating disorders and acid reflux disease can also cause acid to dissolve tooth enamel, leading to cavities. 

Cavities are common across all age groups - children, teens and adults. Anyone with teeth can get cavities, including babies. 

Untreated cavities can cause serious dental and overall health issues, including infection, tooth loss and dental emergencies such as cracks or severe tooth pain. 

What are teeth cavity symptoms?

As tooth decay worsens, symptoms may vary depending on their extent and location. You may notice signs such as:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Toothache, spontaneous pain or pain when you bite down
  • Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something cold, hot or sweet 
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth 
  • White, brown or black staining on any surface of a tooth 

Tooth pain or other concerning symptoms often prompt people to see our dentists at Emergency Dental Clinics. We can examine your mouth, assess any oral health problems and develop a custom treatment plan to resolve them.

It's also important to visit your primary care dentist for regular dental checkups and cleanings since they will check for cavities at those appointments. 

How long can a cavity go untreated?

It's possible for teeth cavity to develop and not cause pain or any symptoms, which is why it's important to see a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, even when your mouth feels good.

Within three to six months, a cavity can reach the nerve of a tooth and cause pain, tooth loss or even lead to a severe abscess, which can be life-threatening. It's important to have cavities and other dental health issues treated as soon as possible to avoid short and long-term complications for your oral and overall health.

How will my dentist treat my cavity?

How your dentist treats your cavity will depend on its severity. Typically, the dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth with a drill, clean the affected area and repair the tooth using one of these treatment methods:

  • Filling - A filling made of composite resin material will be used to replace the decayed part of a tooth. This procedure can be completed in as little as an hour.
  • Crown - If most of a tooth's enamel has been lost to decay, your dentist will remove the damaged portion of the tooth, then fit a porcelain crown over the rest of your tooth. 
  • Root Canal - If the pulp of your tooth has died or is irreparably damaged, the dentist will perform a root canal to remove the blood vessels, tissue and nerves along with the decayed part of the tooth. Sealing material will be used to fill in the roots before a crown is placed on top of the filled tooth. 

What happens if you don't treat a cavity?

The longer a cavity is left untreated, the larger it gets. While cavities in their early stages affect the tooth enamel (outer coating of a tooth), left untreated they will eventually start to impact the dentin (inner layer of a tooth), leading to infection, severe toothache and tooth loss. 

Cavities can lead to serious and long-lasting complications for people of all ages, including children who still have their baby teeth. 

These complications may include:

  • Tooth abscess (a pocket of pus caused by bacterial infection)
  • Pus or swelling around a tooth 
  • Pain 
  • Broken or damaged teeth 
  • Problems with chewing
  • Tooth loss and resulting shift in positioning or alignment of remaining teeth 

In rare cases, if severe teeth cavity or decay has caused a tooth abscess, this is considered a dental emergency. It can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections.

Cavity Treatment at Emergency Dental Clinics

Regularly visiting your dentist for dental checkups and cleanings and maintaining an excellent brushing and flossing routine at home is your best defense against cavities and tooth decay. 

However, if teeth cavity develops and is causing severe pain, sensitivity, abscess or another dental emergency, you may consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. See one of our dentists in Edmonton as soon as possible. We can assess the issue and use appropriate treatment methods such as a filling, crown or root canal. 

Do you have pain or sensitivity in your teeth, or other symptoms of cavities? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can examine the problem and recommend treatment options.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

Contact Us Now
Request Appointment (780) 483-7079