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Dental cavities

  • Alternative Names

    Caries; Tooth decay; Cavities - tooth


    Treatment can help prevent tooth damage from leading to cavities.

    Treatment may involve:

    • Fillings
    • Crowns
    • Root canals

    Dentists fill teeth by removing the decayed tooth material with a drill and replacing it with a material such as silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or composite resin. Porcelain and composite resin more closely match the natural tooth appearance, and may be preferred for front teeth. Many dentists consider silver amalgam (alloy) and gold to be stronger, and these materials are often used on back teeth. There is a trend to use high strength composite resin in the back teeth as well.

    Crowns or "caps" are used if tooth decay is extensive and there is limited tooth structure, which may cause weakened teeth. Large fillings and weak teeth increase the risk of the tooth breaking. The decayed or weakened area is removed and repaired. A crown is fitted over the remainder of the tooth. Crowns are often made of gold, porcelain, or porcelain attached to metal.

    A root canal is recommended if the nerve in a tooth dies from decay or injury. The center of the tooth, including the nerve and blood vessel tissue (pulp), is removed along with decayed portions of the tooth. The roots are filled with a sealing material. The tooth is filled, and a crown may be placed over the tooth if needed.

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Treatment often saves the tooth. Early treatment is less painful and less expensive than treatment of extensive decay.

    You may need numbing medicine (lidocaine), nitrous oxide (laughing gas), or other prescription medications to relieve pain during or after drilling or dental work.

    Nitrous oxide with Novocaine may be preferred if you are afraid of dental treatments.

    • Discomfort or pain
    • Fractured tooth
    • Inability to bite down on tooth
    • Tooth abscess
    • Tooth sensitivity

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your dentist if you have a toothache.

    Make an appointment with your dentist for a routine cleaning and examination if you have not had one in the last 6 months to 1 year.