Dentist: "There is decay on your tooth. It has just past the protective layer of enamel but now we will need to restore it. Your options are a filling to remove decay or do nothing and the decay will spread."
Patient: "But how can I have a cavity if it doesn't hurt?"
We hear this exchange often and I am going to let you know why you shouldn't wait till things hurt. Actually, that sentence is self explanatory: Why not treat something now before it gives you symptoms of pain and discomfort.
However, a cavity is not a cavity is not a cavity. Let me explain. You need three things for a cavity: tooth structure, bacteria and sugar. When bacteria eat the sugar you leave behind on and in between your teeth they make acid and that acid breaks down the tooth. This makes a nice little hidey hole for bacteria to hang out in. They continue to eat the sugar you leave there and make more acid making a larger hole.
Your teeth are made out of layers. The outside is a very hard enamel made of minerals. right below the enamel is the dentin, a softer material with channels leading into your nerve. At the core of your tooth lies your pulp which is where your nerve and blood vessels are.
If we see the bacteria working a little into your enamel, you still have a chance to reverse it. You can do this by using floss at night so you wipe the area clean, then use a rinse with extra fluoride. This fluoride will plug up the damage done by the bacteria.
If we see a cavity that has just started, meaning the damage the bacteria has made is past the protective layer of enamel and just started to get into the layer below we will recommend to have it repaired with a filling. The smaller amount we have to remove and replace with a filling, the longer the filling will last and the less invasive the procedure, meaning quick healing time and less sensitivity as the tooth heals.
If you wait until it hurts the bacteria and acid have burrowed their way very close to the nerve and destroying your tooth in the process. Now a lot of your tooth is decayed. That large amount has to be removed so there is not a lot of support for the filling. These fillings do not last as long and it take a while for your tooth to heal after it is placed.
That is of course if those bacteria haven't used those channels to take a highway to your nerve. Once they get in there, no filling can fix the tooth, the infection is irreversible and more complicated treatments need to be done or you can lose the tooth all together.
So when you have the chance to fix something when it doesn't bother you, think about what it means to wait till it hurts. I hope this information is helpful.
Dr. Ila Mankad is a general dentist in Brentwood California. She wants to teach patients the not so secret ways of achieving a healthy mouth.