If there were a classic Hollywood sign of a cavity, it would be someone biting into an apple or popsicle, and immediately holding their jaw in agony from the pain. Since many people think crushing tooth pain = cavity, they may avoid going to the dentist until a problem or pain actually arises. Not the wisest move.
While some people might get symptoms of sensitivity if they have a cavity, like pain when they eat something hot or cold, others get no cavity symptoms at all.
“The most common misconception about a cavity is that a cavity is going to cause you a lot of pain,” says Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City. “Most of the time when you’re having pain from a cavity, it’s already too late to get a filling or just a crown, usually at that point you’re getting a root canal.”
What Causes a Cavity?
A cavity is tooth decay, or the destruction of tooth enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of your teeth. “Cavities are quite common in adults these days because a lot of people have very acidic foods and acidic drinks, and that helps take away the mineral quality of the teeth and make them more vulnerable to cavities,” says Dr. Jablow.
Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. Brushing twice a day and flossing once a day helps to get rid of that plaque and keep your teeth and gums healthy. When you eat or drink sugary foods, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The bacteria then start to eat away at the enamel and softens it by removing the minerals in the teeth, called demineralization, says Dr. Jablow.
What Happens If a Cavity Goes Untreated?
If a cavity isn’t treated or goes undetected, it progresses and begins to eat away at the inside of the tooth. “What can happen is the bacteria can actually penetrate deep into the nerve of the tooth, or what we call the pulp of the tooth, then all of a sudden you get this extreme pain that might be keeping you up at night,” says Dr. Jablow. When that occurs, the nerve of the tooth would have to be removed by a root canal.
Along with going to the dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups, Dr. Jablow offers this sound advice: “Don’t ignore the signs in your teeth, if your mouth is telling you there’s something uncomfortable, it’s important to go see the dentist.”