When you have been diagnosed with a cavity or you suspect that you have one, the dentist can treat the cavity to repair the damage, strengthen your tooth and help prevent further damage. Cavities can occur on any tooth and in any place on the surface of the tooth, but they are most common in areas that are more difficult to brush and clean at home between dental appointments.
When you suspect that you have a cavity, you can expect the dentist to go through the following steps to confirm the presence of any tooth decay:
- Inquire about any tooth sensitivity or pain around any specific teeth
- Complete an exam of your teeth, gums and mouth
- Using instruments, the dentist will test your teeth for any weak or soft spots
- After X-rays, the dentist can use the images to determine the damage caused by the tooth decay
After the dentist completes these steps, the dentist can determine which of the three types of cavities you have: smooth surface, pit and fissure or root.
If you are in the habit of maintaining regular twice-yearly dental appointments, the dentist will easily be able to identify changes in your teeth and the early symptoms of more serious problems like gum disease and oral cancer. The routine exams can help the dentist treat the issues before they become more problematic, invasive and costly. The dentist can even detect and fix a cavity before you have any pain.
Depending on which tooth has the cavity and where on the tooth the cavity is located, the dentist can review the various treatment plans.
In its earliest stages, dentists can use fluoride treatments to help strengthen your tooth’s enamel by restoring minerals that have been stripped by bacteria.
The treatment that you are most likely familiar with is the filling; dentists refer to these as restorations. The dentist can review with you the various material options for the filling material. Traditionally, dentists have used metal, but other options include porcelain, tooth colored composite resin, or even an amalgam of multiple materials.
If the damage covers a large surface area or has caused your tooth to weaken, then the dentist can use a crown to fix your cavity. A dental crown is a covering for your entire tooth that is custom made to replicate the look and function of the nature tooth. Like fillings, crowns can be composed of a variety of materials including gold, metal, resin, porcelain, or a combination of metal and other composites.
Once the tooth decay goes beyond the enamel and into the inner layer of the tooth, the dentist may need to first treat the tooth pulp with a root canal to remove damage and infection. A root canal is used to fix the cavity and prevent the dentist from having remove the tooth. After the root canal, the dentist can repair the tooth with a crown or filling.
Finally, once the cavity has reached the inner layer of the tooth or damaged the tooth beyond repair, the only way to repair the cavity is to extract the tooth. The dentist will remove the damaged tooth and then replace the missing tooth with an implant, bridge or partial denture in order to prevent more problems with the surrounding teeth.
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