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Is a painful cavity a dental emergency?

Most people experience some kind of dental pain at some stage in their life. The pain can range from minor to major in terms of intensity and duration.

Dental cavities may cause some discomfort and pain, but most cavities typically do not cause major emergencies. When pain persists, it persuades people to visit their dentists. But small and minor pains due to cavities may also develop into severe pain and can be considered as an emergency.

What is a cavity?

A cavity is a hole in your tooth. Cavities are also known as dental caries or dental decay. Cavities in the teeth leads the decay in the tooth right up to the roots of the tooth and gums.

Causes of Cavities

The main culprit of dental cavities is poor dental hygiene. Our mouth has saliva which breaks down food and turns it into sugar. Then there are remnants of sugar left over from starchy foods. There are also sugars that are left behind in the mouth from sticky sweet foods. All these leftover sugar in the mouth become food for the bacteria which are already residing in the mouth.

The bacteria break down sugar and create a thin film on the teeth called plaque. Plaque in turn attracts more bacteria. Acids are formed as a by-product of plaque creation due to the breakdown of sugar by bacteria. This process can go on, and bacteria multiplies as a result.

This causes the enamel of the teeth to decay and expose dentin and pulp underneath. When the decay reaches the root of the tooth in the gums, the exposed nerves create a sensation of pain, and may increase in intensity if left untreated.

When does the pain become unbearable?

As the decay progresses, the teeth develop sensitivity and pain.

The decay usually begins on the top layer of the tooth which is the enamel. When the decay progresses, it moves to the second layer which is dentin. Then untreated decay reaches the pulp, which is when you start getting sharp pain in the tooth. The holes in the tooth keep getting larger and goes deeper. This starts affecting the dental tissues.

When the cavities reach a stage where it has created abscess and infection, it is called an emergency because it results in unbearable pain.

Why a dental cavity becomes an emergency

When the cavity goes untreated and reaches the pulp, the bacteria and infection reach the roots of the tooth where dental tissues lie. The roots are sensitive to infection and create shooting pain in the tooth. It also makes the site inflamed and the inflammation in turn creates more pain. The infection at this stage can spread quickly and you may find an entire side painful to touch. This is called a dental emergency and you have to get immediate treatment for the toothache.

When you find yourself in this throbbing pain, seek an emergency appointment with your dentist.

What to do till you see your dentist

Having cold compress put onto the affected site is a good remedy for the intense pain. There are many pain-relieving gels available in the market over the counter. You must also ask for pain relievers over the counter.

Even when you have taken the pain reliever, do go and see the dentist because the  pain is only a symptom. The cause is still there and if you keep taking pain relievers over the counter the end result could even be loss of teeth.

What emergency treatment you can receive from the dentist

When you see the dentist for the emergency treatment of your cavity, he will examine you and decide on how much damage has been done. He may then decide to do a root canal treatment or may be start on a course of treatment to subside the swelling and infection. He may prescribe antibiotics for the infection and then decide whether or not the tooth should be removed.

How to prevent cavities

Cavities are considered dental emergency if the pain is unbearable and if you find shooting pain in the middle of the night when no dentist is available.
You can avoid such emergencies with simple steps take regularly.

  1. Good oral hygiene routine

It is vital to have a rigid routine of taking care of your teeth. Regular brushing and flossing is a must. When you get up in the morning do robust cleaning. Use a good fluoride toothpaste and good quality firm toothbrush. Flossing your teeth before going to bed is a must because brushing does not remove particles of food from between the teeth.

  1. Regular check up

Visit your dentist regularly because even if you do not have any pain or dental issues it is advisable to go for regular checkups so that minor issues do not turn into major troubles.

  1. Taking steps for bruxism

If you have the habit of grinding teeth during sleep. It is best to consider treating it. Talk to your dentist and get yourself mouthguard so that teeth do not create any problem in the future.

  1. Following the dentist’s instructions

Going to see the dentist regularly is of no use if you do not follow his instructions.  Sometimes when we do not have any dental problems we tend to ignore the instruction given by the dentist. Do follow their advice because small things turn big in no time and then you may be required to spend money to treat dental issues which could have been avoided.

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