When the dentist tells us we have signs of decay, it means the formation of cavities has likely begun. Most people automatically hear the sound of the dentist’s drill going off in their minds, assuming they will need a filling, or even a root canal depending on the severity. However, not all signs of decay will turn into cavities that need to be filled, especially if they’re caught early enough. Going to routine check-ups and cleanings can help detect these cavities before they turn into something bigger, especially because small points of decay usually won’t hurt or feel sensitive like a more advanced cavity that’s been forming for a more extended period. If early intervention is administered for these small cavities, there are other options for patients that don’t involve getting a filling.
Most Common Types of Cavities
- Smooth Surface Cavities: When teeth aren’t appropriately brushed after eating and drinking, and particles aren’t removed by using floss, a smooth surface cavity will form slowly but can be treatable if caught early.
- Pit and Fissure Cavities: Most commonly found on the molars or back teeth, these kinds of cavities usually happen because of poor oral hygiene habits allowing food particles and plaque to stick to small indentations and grooves on top of the teeth and cause decay.
- Root Cavity: Typically, these cavities are seen most often in older adults that have issues with receding gums. Root cavities can be painful as they cause decay at the area of the teeth right at the root, close to the nerve, causing a lot of sensitivity.
Solutions for Common Types of Cavities
The three most commonly seen cavity types each have a specific treatment that is best for preventing further decay while also protecting the tooth’s enamel.
Smooth Surface Cavity Treatment: Usually, the easiest kind of cavities to treat when caught early on, dentists will recommend a fluoride treatment, gel, or varnish to strengthen the tooth and prevent decay from developing further. If the decay penetrates the enamel, however, a filling will be needed.
Pit and Fissure Cavity Treatment: This kind of cavity can be treated with fluoride toothpaste if treated early enough in its formation. However, if the decay has breached the dentin, a filling or composite is required to protect the tooth and further damage. Sometimes, if the cavity is severe, a crown is needed to preserve the structure of the tooth.
Root Cavity Treatment: These painful small cavities usually require a filling or dental crown. If the cavity is deep enough to penetrate to the tooth’s pulp, a root canal and dental crown will most likely be the course of action to resolve the issue because root decay can progress quickly into something worse.
Others Treatment Options
When routine cleanings and check-ups are tended to in a timely matter, dentists can see the development of small cavities, especially the kind that is most commonly found in children and adults. Depending on the severity of the cavity, several treatment options are available that can help bypass the need for drilling and filling.
Fluoride Treatment: For small cavities, dentists can prescribe fluoride toothpaste, brush-on gel, treatment trays, or mouth rinses to help repair the tooth and get rid of decay on the tooth’s enamel. These fluoride treatments are highly-concentrated and infused with calcium and phosphates to keep the decay from penetrating the tooth’s dentin.
Resin Sealants: If a small cavity is forming on a molar, dentists can apply a preventative resin treatment, sometimes called a dental sealant, onto the area. The formula of the plastic sealant is tooth-colored and is best used to chewing surfaces on the back teeth, bonding quickly and strongly to the ridges and grooves of the tooth surface to shield the enamel.
Tooth-colored Fillings: When a cavity is small but has still reached the tooth’s dentin, topical treatments for the tooth won’t prevent the decay from developing further. This is why dentists will often recommend a composite filling that is nearly undetectable when looking at the finished product because it’s camouflaged to match the color of the natural tooth. Usually, these fillings are also combined with a dental sealant to give the tooth extra cavity protection while also treating the existing decay.
Since not all small cavities will progress into larger, more harmful forms of decay, there are less-invasive treatments that don’t require drilling or filings. However, the best way for people do avoid having to deal with these common types of small cavities is through proper oral health and hygiene techniques in order to prevent them before they start! Brushing and flossing at least twice a day is the bare minimum for children and adults, which can be aided by the use of water irrigation flossers, electric toothbrushes, and small, portable manual flossing tools. Everyone is also encouraged to keep snacking to a minimum and keep a healthy diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods, while also limiting high-acidity items such as soda, candy, and refined sugars.
Seeing a dentist regularly for check-ups and routine cleanings are the best way to stay on top of any potentially forming cavities, especially the smallest ones that can be stopped in their tracks. With modern treatments for small, early-stage decay, patients can avoid the drill and fillings, as well as root canals and crowns, with the use of simple fluoride treatments or sealants to help protect tooth enamel. Waiting until tooth sensitivity rears its ugly head due to a forming cavity likely means that it’s too late to treat the decay without drilling since the cavity has reached the tooth’s dentin, so patients are urged to keep up with their dental appointments so these issues can be spotted and resolved as quickly as possible before any further damage to the tooth occurs.