Caring for your teeth is an ongoing practice and personal commitment. Yet, even when you brush regularly, tooth decay can happen. While it may be distressing to think about and experience, you do have options when it comes to treatments.

Tooth decay, known also as cavities or caries, is one of the top dental health issues found today. From children to teenagers to senior adults, these are all too common and require treatment as soon as possible.

Essentially, cavities are damaged areas of the tooth’s hard enamel surface. These reveal themselves as tiny holes or openings and may cause symptoms of pain, sensitivity, or discoloration.

Young child at dentist appointment

Cavities can result from certain mouth bacteria, acids, the consumption of snack foods and sugary beverages, and less than optimal dental hygiene. They are also common when experiencing dry mouth, acid reflux, or aging. Worn fillings often give way leading to the build-up of decay as well.

Tending to this tooth decay is imperative. If left untreated, it can grow larger. It may also damage the deeper layers of your tooth. In turn, you’ll experience more severe symptoms, potential infections and can even lose the tooth altogether.

How is a Cavity or Tooth Decay Diagnosed?

A cavity diagnosis starts with any symptoms you are currently experiencing. While you may not know you have a cavity, these symptoms will alert you to pay attention.

These symptoms may include:

  • toothache, a throbbing, or continuous pain
  • sensitivity in the area or of the tooth itself
  • increased sensation or pain when exposed to sweet, cold, or hot food and beverages
  • difficulty chewing, or centralized pain when biting down with a particular tooth
  • small dark spots or staining on the tooth’s surface
  • visible depression, pit, or actual hole in your tooth

You may experience all or just one of these symptoms if you have a cavity. Some patients, however, suffer no symptoms at all but still have cavities found during an exam.

To diagnose tooth decay, your dentist will take the following steps:

  • Ask about any issues with sensitivity or pain before the physical examination of your teeth and gums begins.
  • Conduct a visual inspection of your teeth, gums, and mouth for any easily visible signs of decay.
  • Thoroughly examine your mouth, teeth, and gums using specific dental instruments to probe for soft or sticky spaces and better see any darkened areas.
  • Take x-ray images to show the extent of any tooth decay found.
  • Make a determination as to what type of cavity you have. These can be either smooth surface cavities, pit, and fissure, or root-related decay. Root decay is commonly found in older adults experiencing recession of the gums.

Once your dentist makes and confirms a cavity diagnosis, a treatment plan is developed to serve your individual best interests.

What are Treatments for Cavities or Tooth Decay?

Whether found during a regular exam or emergency appointment, treatment for your cavity will depend on its severity. If found early, a fluoride treatment may be all you need. Otherwise, treatment options vary and include:

  • Restoration Fillings; The most common treatment for tooth decay is the use of fillings. Common materials that make up these fillings include teeth-colored composite resins, porcelain, or a combination of materials (referred to as dental amalgam).
  • Tooth Extractions: With severe decay, your best option may be to remove the tooth altogether. While avoiding this is the preferred option, sometimes it will be necessary depending on your situation.
  • Dental Crowns: If a tooth is weakened by the cavity or includes extensive levels of decay, you may require a crown. This procedure and treatment require the removal of all decay and other parts of your natural tooth. A custom-fit cap or covering is then put in place. There are various options for the type of material a crown can be, ranging from porcelain fused to metal to all gold.
  • Root Canals: For times when a simple filling or placement of a crown won’t work, it’s time to consider a root canal. In these instances, the decay reaches the inner layers, or pulp, of your tooth. This affects the nerves located there and can lead to severe pain. This procedure can save and repair your tooth by removing that damaged pulp and replacing it with filling. In some instances, you may require a new crown.

The first step you should take following a cavity diagnosis is not to panic. Making the best decision for your treatment comes next. Working closely together with your dentist, you can find a solution that suits your situation and gets you back to smiling as soon as possible.

Take the First Step to Care for Your Dental Health Today

Establishing and maintaining good dental health brings with it peace of mind as well as daily comfort. Your teeth are important instruments you use every day, and when something goes wrong, you need the right kind of care.

Here at Stiles Dental Care in Medford, NJ, we dedicate ourselves to providing premier, compassionate services for all our patients. You can expect individualized attention, gentle care, and complete professionalism from our dedicated staff.

Protect your dental health starting today. With an initial exam by Dr. Stiles and his dedicated team, you’ll be on your way to a healthy mouth and a more confident smile. Call us at 609-654-0033 or go to our website to make an appointment.