How Do Dentists Treat Tooth Decay?

How Do Dentists Treat Tooth Decay?


A cavity can put a real damper in your smile. Whether it causes you embarrassment, prevents you from eating the food that you love, or simply hurts, the best fix for tooth decay is treating it as soon as possible.

Why? Because cavities will grow larger — even deeper into the tooth — or spread to healthy teeth that are adjacent to the one with decay.


Small cavities are best treated with a filling. In the past, fillings were made out of metal. The cavity was cleaned out and the remaining enamel was shaped with a wedge cut into it, so that the amalgam material could be packed into place.

Modern fillings are smaller and less invasive. Made of white material that bonds directly to your tooth, composite fillings require less adjustment to the structure of teeth. As such, they’re preferred over traditional silver fillings. Their materials come in a variety of shades, allowing your dentist to select the one that most closely resembles that of your natural enamel.


If your cavity is large and takes up a significant portion of the tooth, it may not be possible to fill. After all, you need enough healthy enamel to withstand normal pressure without breaking apart. When only a shell of structure remains, it’s best to cover the tooth as a whole instead of patching it up with a filling.

Crowns do just that. Sometimes called “caps,” these restorations encase the entire visible surface of your tooth up to the gumlines. They’re best for large cavities or cracks that compromise the integrity of the tooth’s function.

Root Canals

For cavities that have eaten their way all the way through to the inside of a tooth, a root canal is essential. Bacteria destroy the tooth’s nerve tissue, seep through the canal, and even cause abscesses near the tip of the root and out the gums. You might notice a pimple that seems to come and go, because of the infection.

During a root canal, the inner nerve tissues are removed from the tooth and the entire chamber is filled. You can think of it as a filling that extends through the root.

Because the tooth isn’t alive anymore, it becomes brittle and might crack or fracture when you chew. To avoid this, your dentist will also put a crown over it. Crowns don’t always require root canals, but root canals nearly always require crowns.

Treating Cavities Before They Start

Did you know that it’s possible to prevent cavities or stop them from getting worse? Fluoride — if used early enough — can halt initial tooth demineralization and even reverse it. That’s one reason why it’s so important to see your dentist every six months. When early signs of cavities are developing, your oral health professional can take action before you even realize there’s a problem.

Sealants are another great way to reduce your risk of tooth decay. In most cases, the protective coating is applied to the deep grooves and pits of molars soon after they erupt. But adults can request sealants too, especially if you’ve had a history of lots of cavities. They only take a couple of minutes to place, and no numbing is necessary.

Knowledge is Power

Understanding what causes tooth decay is your best defense against it. Most cavities aren’t caused by eating candy — they’re due to sweetened drinks and infrequent flossing. Dry mouth can also be a risk factor, as it prevents saliva from washing away acids between meals.

Drink plenty of water, limit your intake of sodas, juice, and sports drinks, and brush and floss regularly.

The most effective way to ensure that your dentist can treat the cavity in an affordable manner is to schedule a dental checkup about every six months. During these visits, you’ll have your teeth carefully examined and assessed for potential symptoms of decay. Don’t skip your x-rays, either! These high-resolution images make it possible to assess areas between teeth that can’t be seen during an exam.

Are you skipping out on beneficial preventive care because you don’t have dental insurance anymore? Another affordable alternative is to join a dental savings plan. These discount programs can save you anywhere from 15-50% on treatments like fillings, crowns, root canals and sealants. Contact Cigna Dental Plans today to learn more about our nationwide plan and the dentists who accept it.

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