Is a cavity considered a dental emergency?

You have probably experienced some level of dental pain at some point in your life. It can range from momentary, minor pain to continuous, severe pain. Fairly mild sensitivity or discomfort may indicate a cavity but is not a sign of a more serious dental emergency. Continuous pain due to a cavity is a sign that you should visit your dentist sooner rather than later. While a small cavity is not a dental emergency, it can get worse if you do not seek treatment and become one in the future.

To understand the severity of a cavity better, it is a good idea to have an understanding of what it is and what causes them.


What is a cavity?

A cavity, also known as tooth decay, is when the enamel on the tooth is permanently damaged. It starts off as a weaker area on the surface of the tooth but if left untreated, it eventually wears through to the center of the tooth, which is when it becomes painful.

How do you know if you have a cavity?

The best way of knowing if you have a cavity is to have regular checkups with your normal dentist. Measures, such as having a filling, can be taken to stop it from becoming a bigger issue. However, other signs of having a cavity include:

  • Toothache and pain for no apparent reason
  • Sensitive teeth, especially when eating or drinking things that are hot, cold, or sweet
  • Pain that can be described as mild to sharp when eating and/or drinking
  • Pain when biting down and putting pressure on the tooth
  • Black, brown, or white staining on the surface of the teeth
  • Visible pitting or holes on the tooth


How can you prevent cavities?

Generally, you should make an appointment with your dentist every six months for checkups and preventive treatment. People who are more affected by tooth decay may need to visit more often. Brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day is the most important thing that you can do for your teeth to prevent cavities. The vast majority of cavities and other dental problems can be prevented with good oral hygiene practices and regular checkups. Leaving them to get worse can cause periodontal disease, weakened teeth and end up causing something that eventually becomes a dental emergency.


What happens if a cavity is left untreated?

Without treatment, the holes in the enamel can get bigger and more complex. Not only could this result in serious toothache, but it can lead to infection of the dental pulp, an abscess or infected tooth, or even the loss of the tooth. These situations are deemed to be dental emergencies. If the pain is severe, you have extreme swelling, fever, or pus or fluid leaks from around the painful area, then you should pursue emergency treatment as soon as possible. Not only will an emergency dentist provide pain treatment but you will also be given choices to correct the root issue, whether through filling, root canal therapy, or teeth extraction.


How can you ease the pain before you get to see a dentist?

In the short-term, over the counter pain killers such as paracetamol and analgesic tooth gel can help to relieve severe pain until you get to a dentist. However, in the long-term, all it does is mask the underlying cause so it is never resolved. It should never be used as a replacement for dental treatment.

Trying to manage the pain yourself for longer than a few days can lead to complications such as abscesses,  which can cause significant damage to the teeth, gum, and surrounding bones. Treatment of the root canal is necessary to fix an abscess, followed by dental crowns or fillings, otherwise, the tooth may be lost completely. If you need a root canal or tooth extraction, you may end up spending a lot of money to treat the cavity immediately – and it is a lot more painful.

Even if the pain dissipates, it is important to contact to the dentist as soon as possible. Just because the pain has eased does not mean that the problem has gone away – in fact, it can be an even bigger sign that the cavity is turning into a dental emergency as a lack of pain can indicate that the nerves have been seriously damaged or they are dead. A dead nerve can encourage bacteria, which leads to further issues.

Generally, a cavity is not an emergency in that you need to search for ‘a dentist near me emergency’ unless it is causing unbearable pain. However, it does need looking at pretty urgently before it does become a bigger problem.

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