I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.S. in Biochemistry and B.A. in History of Art and had the privilege of attending the University of the Pacific Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco.

Will my cavities get larger and more serious if they are left untreated?
Posted in Adult Oral and ... by Dr. Mark Burhenne on Aug 18, 2010
"Last winter I noticed amount 2-3 small cavities on a front tooth. Black spots, now I know what cavities look like. I have been very careful with my oral care in an attempt to not have them worsen. Brushing 2x a day, flossing 1x day, Act flouride mouth wash 1x/day, and I reduced coffee- switched to sugar free ice tea, because the dentist told me last time that coffee could mess with the chemistry in my mouth and make cavities more likely?

So I have delayed getting these cavities filled since I noticed them for about 6 months. They don't hurt. How important is it to get them filled? Will they worsen if I don't and continue with my oral routine for another year? Will it make a difference if I get them filled?"

Good question. I see where you’re going with this; you have taken the first step by identifying that you have a cavity, but right now, it’s difficult to take care of, so you’re asking, how long is it possible to keep it at bay or, do I need to treat it at all?

I’m sorry to inform you that a cavity left untreated is a recipe for disaster. What most people don’t realize is that a cavity is an infection of the tooth. Infections, if left untreated, get worse, no matter how good your oral health regimen is. Once a cavity takes hold, conditions are optimized for more rapid and more devastating damage to the tooth. The worsening of the infection will ultimately affect other systems in your body, such as your heart, your kidneys, and your liver (to name a few), but in fact, it can actually kill you. The cavity can kill the tooth, which leads to an abscess, which can travel down a space between the tissues in your neck, that lead right to your heart.

Albeit very rare these days, this was a common way to die in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since the invention of antibiotics, we’re able to save people’s lives at the last hour. Once a cavity is established in the tooth, the bacteria are protected from the effects of brushing and flossing and saliva. Each day, that cavity will grow, leading to more loss of tooth structure, and a more expensive treatment (by a factor of roughly 5x).

In general, in the treatment of the human body, it is best to prevent the occurrence of disease, but if unable to, then of course, treatment is always more successful in the early stages of the disease. Cavities are a disease.

Mark Burhenne DDS

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