There is always a battle going on in your mouth! There is bacteria present in your mouth that produce an acid that can attack your tooth and dissolve (demineralize) it away. Fortunately, we also have saliva that is capable of repairing (remineralizing) the early stages of this acid attack on the tooth. This process is natural and a hole begins to form in the tooth only if demineralization action far outweighs remineralization.
Once a hole in the tooth become irreversible, there are different stages to the cavity process. As a disease, it is progressive like any other disease of the body. The enamel portion of a tooth has no feeling which is why you are usually not able to feel it. The longer you wait to have a tooth with a cavity repaired, the larger it will grow until it finally progresses into that portion of your tooth that is more sensitive to the presence of this decay. This is when you may begin to feel some of the discomfort associated with deeper cavities.
If left untreated, it will eventually reach what people commonly refer to as the “nerve” of the tooth. If a decay is allowed to reach this portion of the tooth, then it can no longer be cleaned out and replaced with dental filling material. At this stage, repair will also involve treatment to the nerve (pulpal) center of the tooth.
When you attend your dental office for a check-up exam and are told you have some cavities that need to be repaired, it is understandable why you would ask the question, “If I have a cavity, why doesn’t it hurt?” Some people even decide to put off having the tooth repaired because it isn’t really bothering them now. If your tooth is showing very early sign of decay which is still at a stage where steps can be taken to prevent it from getting bigger, then your dentist will probably give you some oral hygiene and diet instructions and monitor the situation.
We call these areas Incipient Decay (“watches”), and it is important that you return for your regular check-up visits so that the dentist can re-check the decayed area to ensure that there has been no further damage.
Understanding that dental decay (cavities) is a disease process and that is involves the rotting away (decaying) of body tissue will help you appreciate why we take the matter so seriously. If your family doctor told you that you had another part of your body that is rotting away, you would not likely delay treatment until it hurts. No one wants to have a condition in their body that can eventually become an infection. Infections can become so severe that it can lead to the loss of a body part. Untreated tooth decay can eventually lead to the loss of a tooth.
Still, we understand that if you are not experiencing any discomfort and can’t see any damage, then it can be hard to justify immediate treatment.
…going to your physician for your annual examinations hoping for the reassurance that everything is fine with your body and that, overall, you are healthy. Sometimes, however, your doctor may detect an issue of concern and order further tests. Sometimes, these tests reveal an underlying condition even though you are feeling quite well and are experiencing no signs or symptoms – ones that you can detect that is!
Clinically (with our eyes), we only see about a third of a person’s dental health which is why, in the absence of pain or signs and symptoms, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. X-rays provide valuable information of that portion of the tooth that is below the gum line as well as the bone that supports it. We also have intra-oral cameras that can zoom into an hard to see area of the mouth and show up on our computer monitor for better patient viewing.
Gone are the days of blind trust when people rarely questioned the recommendation of a health care practitioner. Nowadays, information abounds and patients are “informed consumers.” They also know that communication is key to understanding their state of health and any treatment options offered. No matter the level of trust a person may or may not have, healthcare providers sometimes have to convince patients of the need for treatment. When there is no pain or symptoms, patients can be especially distrustful and may even question the provider’s competence or integrity.
Dentistry is no exception, but we are an evidence-based industry which is why our diagnostic tools are so essential during examination. Being able to show a patient an infection, a broken tooth or a cavity where no symptoms exist helps a patient to see what we see and to understand why intervention is necessary.
One of the cornerstones of our practice at Your Smile Dental Care is trust, but trust is often built up over time as the patient/doctor relationship grows. Some of our most skeptical and suspicious patients have become our most trusting and loyal patients.
So don’t put of tomorrow what you can fix today!
Yours in Better Dental Health,
The Your Smile Dental Care team