We're all familiar with the term "cavity" — those unwelcome dental intruders that prompt us to seek out professional care to remedy the dreaded holes in our teeth.
But here’s the big question: Can cavities go away on their own?
A cavity, also known as dental caries or tooth decay, is the result of a complex process involving bacteria, acids and the gradual breakdown of tooth enamel. Unfortunately, cavities don't have the magical ability to disappear on their own. Once they begin to form, they require intervention to stop the decay and restore the health of the affected tooth. However, with proper oral hygiene and timely dental treatment, it's possible to prevent cavities from worsening and even reverse early-stage demineralization and/or wearing down of the teeth.
While we know now that cavities won't disappear on their own, this blog is here to provide you with valuable insights into how and why cavities begin to develop, what you can do to combat further tooth decay and oral health practices you can implement to prevent cavities from forming in the first place. Discover common myths, the realities of tooth decay and tips for keeping your pearly whites shining bright and in tip-top health.
What is a Cavity?
A cavity — AKA “caries,” in simple terms, refers to a hole in the tooth formed as a result of tooth decay. Over time, as a cavity develops, the enamel — the outer protective layer of the tooth — breaks down and wears away. Enamel may become weakened due to different factors, such as exposure to acids found in sugary foods and drinks. Additionally, plaque produced by bacteria in the mouth contains acids that eat away at the enamel. As plaque builds up on teeth, enamel begins to break down. A disruption in the balance of bacteria in the mouth can also cause teeth to lose minerals. Eventually, with enough enamel and minerals lost, a full-blown cavity begins to develop.
If left untreated, cavities can lead to more significant oral health issues down the line. So, it is best to treat cavities right away as well as adopt various preventive measures to maintain optimal oral health.
Stages of Tooth Decay
In order to better understand what a cavity is and why and how it forms, we need to take a closer look at the tooth decay process. Cavities begin as seemingly harmless white spots that appear on the tooth’s surface. These spots indicate that the enamel has begun to demineralize or wear away.
When you see these white spots begin to form on the teeth, this is your sign to start acting quickly. When a cavity is still in its early stages, it may be possible to halt or even reverse tooth decay with proper care. However, if not treated right away, the enamel will continue to break down, and once a cavity has formed, it will need to be filled by a dental professional.
As tooth decay progresses, other parts of the tooth’s internal structure begin to wear away and break down. After the enamel has eroded, the decay reaches the dentin layer of the tooth (and later, the pulp) until it forms a more severe and inflamed abscess. As decay reaches the softer layers of tissue beneath the enamel of the tooth and the infection becomes more severe, you may begin to experience pain, soreness and discomfort.
When Can a Cavity Heal on Its Own?
Once the process of tooth decay has begun, it’s not possible for a cavity to simply go away on its own. Tooth decay indicates active bacteria inside the tooth, causing trouble that needs to be addressed. And once the enamel has broken down, it unfortunately can’t magically grow back.
However, in the early stages of a cavity, when a tooth starts to lose minerals (and before a physical hole has formed), you can do your part to replenish minerals in the tooth and halt the decay process. But to do so, you will need to ensure you are treating your teeth with the right oral wellness tools at home and using proper oral hygiene to prevent further demineralization and tooth decay.
What Are the Risks Associated With Untreated Cavities?
It’s not a smart choice to ignore a cavity. As cavities progress, they become more painful, leading to more severe complications, including infections and abscesses. Persistent pain from an emerging cavity can even interfere with your daily life. Remember, the mouth and body are interconnected, and the health of the oral microbiome impacts your overall well-being. Plus, untreated cavities can affect adjacent teeth, causing a domino effect that can potentially lead to the loss of one or more teeth.
So, if you have a growing cavity on your hands, it is best to address it promptly to prevent further risks down the line.
When To See a Dental Professional
When it comes to addressing and treating cavities, dental professionals are the experts. During your cleaning, your dentist will assess the overall health of your mouth. If they notice any indication of decay, they will go over a treatment plan with you to restore the tooth’s health and function. Keeping up with regular dental checkups and cleanings is critical to catching cavities early on so you can prevent the progression of decay and save your teeth from an unpleasant drilling session.
How to Prevent Cavities at Home
The best method to avoid cavities is to prevent them from developing in the first place through proper oral hygiene. Prioritize your oral wellness by brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes each time. Opt for a soft bristle toothbrush for a thorough teeth cleaning that is gentle on your enamel, floss daily to remove the buildup of pesky plaque that forms between teeth and finish up with a mouthwash to boost your oral defenses.
In addition to proper teeth cleaning, try limiting your intake of sugars and starches, which can contribute to active tooth decay and progress the breakdown of enamel. If you do indulge in starchy or sugary snacks from time to time, no worries! (We’re not judging you, we promise.) Just be sure to follow up with a quick brushing to keep your teeth healthy and strong.
Also, be diligent about attending dental checkups for professional teeth cleanings approximately every six months or as often as needed. During these appointments, your dentist will evaluate the overall health of your mouth, address any signs of emerging cavities and help you implement a treatment plan to restore your oral wellness.
Prevent Cavities with Twice Oral Wellness Products
Boost your oral defenses and keep tooth decay at bay with our 5-in-1 Oral Wellness Toothpaste with Fluoride so you can live cavity-free and flash your pearly whites with confidence. Our fluoride-enriched formula fights cavities for complete daily protection while strengthening tooth enamel, reducing sensitivity, keeping your breath fresh and enhancing oral wellness.
This page was written or reviewed for accuracy by the Twice Team. Learn more about us.