Pain, unpleasant as it is, is really our body’s way of telling us there’s something wrong and to take care of it as soon as possible. It’s an early warning system of sorts, without which we would risk serious injury. For example, just think of how quickly you move your hand away from a hot stove!
But what about cavities – do they always hurt? If not, how can we know when to treat them? As a dentist in Richardson, we’ll explain why pain isn’t always a reliable indicator of decay. We’ll also tell you the best way to know if you actually have cavities or not so that you can treat them as soon as possible.
Why Aren’t Cavities Always Painful?
First, it’s helpful to have an idea of the anatomy of a tooth to understand how cavities work. Each tooth has three layers:
- The outer layer is called enamel and is the hardest part of the tooth.
- Underneath that is a material called dentin. This is somewhat softer than the enamel and makes up the middle layer of the tooth.
- Finally, the innermost portion of the tooth is called the pulp, where the nerve of the tooth resides.
When a cavity starts, it’s quite small and stays within the enamel layer. At this point, the nerve of the tooth, which is responsible for any sensation you have, is still quite protected.
If the cavity isn’t caught at that stage it will continue progressing past the first layer of the tooth into the much softer dentin, where it will grow more rapidly. Most people begin to feel some sensitivity to cold temperatures, sweet foods or chewing pressure at this stage because the decay has come closer to the nerve.
The problem with this is that much more of the natural tooth structure has been damaged, which requires more extensive dental work to fix.
How Can You Tell if You Have a Cavity?
The good news is that dentists have reliable ways to see each layer of the tooth. The main tool they use for this purpose is x-rays, which allow them to see what’s happening underneath the enamel.
During exams, your dentist will also visually inspect each tooth and use a special tool called an explorer to see if the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are “soft,” which would indicate early decay.
What’s interesting is that people can differ a lot in how their bodies respond to a cavity. Some people will feel pain from very small cavities. Other people can have severe decay and hardly feel a thing.
This is just one more reason that preventative dentistry is even more important. Being able to catch a cavity when it’s small will save you from more extensive dental work down the road. And that’s something to smile about!
About the Author
All of the dentists at Breckinridge Dental and Orthodontics understand the importance of early detection in saving their patient’s time and money in the dental chair. By using the right diagnostic tools and performing thorough exams at every checkup, they make it their goal to catch potential problems when they’re small. If you have any questions they can be reached through their website or at (972) 248-9119.