How long can you leave a cavity untreated?

A dental tooth decay cavity found during routine dental examination check up using a dental mirror

You may have heard “cavity” before, but do you know what it means? A cavity is a small hole or opening in a tooth caused by decay. It is one of the most common dental problems, affecting people of all ages.

But how long can a cavity go untreated?

This article will discuss everything you need to know about cavities, including how to detect and treat them and what could happen if left untreated.

What Is a Cavity?

A cavity, also known as dental caries or tooth decay, is a bacterial infection that causes damage to the hard tissues of the tooth. It is the result of plaque accumulation. It starts when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, accumulates on the tooth’s surface and produces acids that attack the enamel, which is the tooth’s protective outer layer. The acid erodes the enamel, creating a small hole or cavity in the tooth.

How Does Cavity Develop?

1. Poor Oral Hygiene

Cavities often arise due to poor oral hygiene. Plaque accumulates when the mouth, especially teeth, is not cleaned correctly. If this plaque is not removed regularly through brushing and flossing, it can solidify into tartar. Tartar then becomes a hotspot for bacterial growth.

2. High Consumption of Sugary Foods and Drinks

A diet rich in sugary foods and drinks also contributes to cavity formation. Continuous exposure to sugary substances forces the mouth to fight against the threat of cavities consistently.

3. Lack of Fluoride in Diet

Fluoride is essential in preventing cavities and is often administered through a fluoride treatment. This treatment strengthens the tooth enamel, which is the hard outer surface of the teeth, making it more resistant to acid attacks that can cause cavities. Therefore, a lack of fluoride in the diet can increase risk, further emphasizing the significance of regular fluoride treatments.

4. Acid Production by Bacteria

Once tartar forms, it fosters an environment conducive to bacteria. These bacteria flourish within tartar and are responsible for producing acids. High levels of these acids can cause cavities by gradually eating away at the tooth enamel.

How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated?

Leaving a cavity untreated for a long period may result in serious dental health complications. The decay will progressively worsen and may reach the nerve of the tooth, causing severe pain. If left unchecked, this may lead to the loss of the tooth and the spread of the infection to other parts of the mouth. Therefore, it’s always advised to seek dental treatment urgently upon discovering a cavity.

What Are the Treatments Available for Cavity?

1. Dental Fillings

This is a common treatment for small to medium-sized cavities. The decayed portion of the tooth is removed, and the hole is filled with a dental material, such as composite resin or amalgam.

2. Crowns

Your dentist may recommend a crown for larger cavities that have caused significant damage to the tooth. A crown is a prosthetic cap that covers the entire tooth and restores its shape, size, and strength.

3. Root Canal

A cavity that reaches the tooth’s innermost layer potentially triggers a tooth abscess and provokes severe pain in the tooth nerve, which can lead to a serious infection. The pulp, which harbors the nerve, becomes drastically affected in such cases.

To save the tooth from extraction and rid it of the infection, a root canal procedure, which involves the removal of the infected tissue, may be necessary.

What Happens If You Don’t Treat Cavities?

The Decay Can Spread to Other Teeth

If you have multiple cavities, bacteria from one affected tooth can spread to the other teeth in your mouth, causing more extensive dental problems. In the early stages of tooth decay, bacteria erode the protective enamel on the surface of the tooth. As the decay progresses, it may further compromise the tooth structure, affecting both the dentin and the pulp.

Tooth Loss

As the decay progresses past the stages of tooth decay, it can severely degrade the tooth structure and eventually lead to a point where the tooth integrity is so undermined it may not be possible to save the tooth. In these cases, a tooth extraction is necessary.


An untreated cavity can reach the tooth’s root and cause an abscess, a pocket of pus that forms at the tip of the tooth root. This can be extremely painful and may require emergency treatment.

Systemic Infections

In rare cases, the bacteria from an untreated cavity can enter the bloodstream and cause systemic infections, such as endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) or brain abscess.

Don’t Take a Chance, Get Your Smile Checked Today at Always About Smiles

As soon as that nagging toothache hits or you notice a dark spot on your tooth, it’s important to pay a visit to your dental professional. Even if things seem okay, regular check-ups are vital to catch and address cavities early.

Always About Smiles understands the importance of timely dental care and encourages everyone to stay proactive about oral health. We’re not just about restoring smiles; we’re about preventing problems before they become big concerns.

Schedule your appointment with us today.