Most dentists recommend regular checkups to identify cavities and other dental conditions before they cause troubling symptoms and lead to more-serious problems. The sooner you seek care, the better your chances of reversing the earliest stages of tooth decay and preventing its progression. If a cavity is treated before it starts causing pain, you probably won't need extensive treatment.
Treatment of cavities depends on how severe they are and your particular situation. Treatment options include:
May. 30, 2014
- Fluoride treatments. If your cavity is just getting started, a fluoride treatment may help restore your tooth's enamel. Professional fluoride treatments contain more fluoride than the amount found in tap water, over-the-counter toothpaste and mouth rinses. Fluoride treatments may be liquid, gel, foam or varnish that's brushed onto your teeth or placed in a small tray that fits over your teeth. Each treatment takes a few minutes.
- Fillings. Fillings, sometimes called restorations, are the main treatment option when decay has progressed beyond the earliest enamel-erosion stage. Fillings are made of various materials, such as tooth-colored composite resins, porcelain or combinations of several materials. Silver amalgam fillings contain a variety of materials, including small amounts of mercury.
- Crowns. If you have extensive decay or weakened teeth, you may need a crown — a custom-fitted covering that replaces your tooth's entire natural crown. Your dentist will drill away all the decayed area and enough of the rest of your tooth to ensure a good fit. Crowns may be made of gold, porcelain, resin, porcelain fused to metal or other materials.
- Root canals. When decay reaches the inner material of your tooth (pulp), you may need a root canal. This is a treatment to repair and save a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The diseased tooth pulp is removed. Medication is sometimes put into the root canal to clear any infection. Then the pulp is replaced with a filling.
- Tooth extractions. Some teeth become so severely decayed that they can't be restored and must be removed. Having a tooth pulled can leave a gap that allows your other teeth to shift. If possible, consider getting a bridge or a dental implant to replace the missing tooth.
- Caries. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec08/ch095/ch095b.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Dental caries (tooth decay). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Fluoridation basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/fluoridation/basics/index.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Mercury in dental amalgam. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/hg/dentalamalgam.html. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Dental sealants. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/publications/faqs/sealants.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- The tooth decay process: How to reverse it and avoid a cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- A healthy mouth for your baby. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/ToothDecay/AHealthyMouthforYourBaby.htm. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Cavities. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/c/cavities. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Eating disorders. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eating-disorders. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Acid reflux and oral health. Ontario Dental Hygienists' Association. http://www.odha.on.ca/drupal/node/17. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Dry mouth (xerostomia). National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Preventing cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/doh.htm. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Root canals. MouthHealthy. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Mouthrinses. American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/1319.aspx. Accessed March 3, 2014.
- Sheridan PJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 11, 2014.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 25, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.