Ask a Dentist: Can a tooth with a cavity be healed without a filling?
Your dental questions answered!
Can a tooth with a cavity be healed without a filling?
Let's first discuss how cavities are formed.
Cavities are formed, over time, by tooth decay. Tooth decay typically develops following the below process:
Stage 1- Plaque formation: When we don't clean our teeth enough (or well enough), the bacteria on our teeth feed on the sugars and starches we have eaten and produce plaque- that clear, sticky substance on your teeth. The plaque then hardens both above and below the gumline and becomes tartar (or calculus). Tartar provides protection to the bacteria eating the sugar on your teeth and it is difficult to remove- it can only be removed by a dental professional.
Stage 2- Acid Buildup: The plaque from the bacteria is extremely acidic. The plaque begins eroding the tooth's hard, outer layer (known as enamel) by removing the minerals from the tooth and tiny holes begin to form in the enamel. Once the bacteria destroys the enamel, the acid from the plaque makes its way to the next layer of the tooth, called dentin. Dentin is much softer and more vulnerable than enamel to the corrosive properties of the acid. The tooth may become sensitivity at this stage.
Stage 3- Tooth Destruction: The acid continues to eat through the layers of the tooth and eventually make their way to the inner part of the tooth, known as the pulp chamber. All the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth reside in the pulp chamber and become swollen and inflamed from the acid. The excessive swelling causes the nerve to be pinched, which in turn produces pain and discomfort for the patient. It is common for the pain to radiate outside the tooth into the surrounding jaw bone.
So, can a cavity be healed without a filling?
Only certain cavities can heal without fillings. The cavity has to be extremely small, microscopic, in fact.
It is helpful to think of the enamel of a tooth like scaffolding. Prior to becoming an actual cavity, the tooth gets demineralized in that area, as described above. The enamel looses its minerals but the scaffolding is still there. This is the beginning part of the cavity and as long as the scaffolding is still there then minerals can be added back to rebuild the enamel.
Once a tooth begins to loose it's minerals, your dentist should advise you to increase brushing and flossing and should add a fluoride mouth wash into your daily routine. The compound fluoride helps rebuild the enamel scaffolding by replacing the lost minerals and the cavity process should reverse. However, it is important to note that this is a long process that requires the patient to stick to a daily routine of brushing, flossing, and a fluoride rinse as well as frequent check ups at the dental office to make sure the cavity is healing. But if the enamel scaffolding has already been eaten away by the acid, then the cavity cannot be healed without a filling since the minerals have no scaffolding to adhere to.
Deluxe Dental Group, LLC | The Star Dental Group (DBA) | Dr. William Scott, DMD