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How to Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse

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Cavities, small holes in Your teeth that can enlarge over time, occur when the protective enamel of your teeth is eaten away by acids and bacteria. When the enamel is removed, the cavity continues eating away at your tooth in a process known as “tooth decay.” If left untreated, this decay will reach the inner pulp of nerves and blood vessels. The only way to completely remove a cavity is by having your dentist fill it.[1] There are several steps you can take, however, to prevent the cavity from getting worse until you can get an appointment with your dentist.

EditSteps

EditPreventing an Existing Cavity From Getting Worse

  1. Brush the area carefully. Ideally, brushing your teeth will help prevent cavities altogether. However, brushing is also important to prevent cavities from getting worse. Buildup of food stimulates the growth of bacteria. This will get into the cavity and make it worse. Focus on the cavity while brushing to clean away excess food and slow the cavity's progression.[2]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • Use a soft-bristled brush and don’t press too hard as you move it. Move the toothbrush back and forth in gentle motions for at least 2 minutes total.[3]
    • Brush your teeth twice a day and after eating. It’s particularly important that you keep your mouth clean when you have a cavity, since plaque begins to form within 20 minutes of eating.[4]
  2. Look out for symptoms of a cavity. Tooth decay happens gradually, and sometimes, cavities can exist and progress without showing many symptoms.[5] This is one reason why it’s important to get regular dentist checkups. There are a number of signs that either a cavity is forming or has already taken hold of your tooth. If you experience the following symptoms, make an appointment with your dentist. While you wait for your appointment, take steps to prevent the cavity from getting worse.[6][7]
    • A white spot on your tooth. This can be an early sign of tooth decay or of fluorosis. It represents a spot where acids have eaten away the minerals in your tooth enamel. The decay is still reversible at this point, so take action if you notice this in your mouth.
    • Tooth sensitivity. Sensitivity commonly occurs after consuming sweet, hot, or cold foods or drinks.[8] Sensitivity is not always a sign of decay, and many people have sensitive teeth normally. But if you've never had sensitive teeth before and suddenly start feeling sensitivity to certain foods or drinks, this could be a cause for concern.[9]
    • Pain when you bite down.
    • Toothache. When your cavity has progressed so far that it’s affecting the nerve of your tooth, you may experience persistent pain in the affected tooth. This may or may not get worse when eating and drinking. Pain may also be spontaneous.
    • A visible hole in your tooth. This indicates that your cavity is far advanced and has significantly eroded your tooth.
    • Cavities can exist and enlarge over time with no symptoms.
  3. Use a fluoride treatment. Fluoride is bacteriostatic, which means that it keeps bacteria from multiplying in your mouth. It also strengthens your teeth by re-mineralizing enamel, which makes your teeth more resistant to cavities. If you've caught a cavity early enough, a good fluoride treatment may even reverse the decay. You can purchase fluoride-enriched products over-the-counter, but for stronger products you must get a prescription from your dentist. The best option is a professional fluoride application from the dentist, but there are several products you can use while you wait for that.[10][11]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Fluoride toothpastes. Most of the toothpastes available over-the-counter have around 1000 ppm to 1500 ppm of sodium fluoride. Dentists can also prescribe fluoride-enriched toothpaste that contains roughly 5000 ppm of sodium fluoride.
    • Fluoride mouth rinses. Fluoride mouth rinses can be used daily. These mouthwashes generally contain 225 to 1000 ppm of sodium fluoride. Look for a mouth rinse with an ADA seal of approval to indicate that the rinse has been evaluated by the American Dental Association.
    • Fluoride gel. Fluoride gel is thick and will remain on your teeth for a longer period of time. You squirt the gel into trays that you then fit over your teeth.
  4. Drink water. A dry mouth can speed up tooth decay by allowing the buildup of cavity-causing bacteria. Keep your mouth moist to slow the cavity's progression and rinse away food particles that could make decay worse.[12]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • If your mouth stays dry regardless of how much water you drink, this could be a symptom of a larger medical condition, or caused by prescription medication. Talk with your doctor if dry mouth remains a problem for you.
  5. Chew sugar free gum with xylitol. Xylitol is a naturally-occurring alcohol that is extracted from plants. It has anti-bacterial properties and is used to prevent infections. Gum that contains 1-20 grams of xylitol helps kill bacteria that causes cavities and makes them worse. If you suspect you have a cavity, try chewing xylitol gum to slow its growth until you see the dentist.[13]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • Look for chewing gum with the ADA seal. This ensures that you won’t accidentally be doing your teeth more harm than good.
    • Chewing gum also stimulates saliva production, which can help wash away food particles and keep tooth enamel strong.[14]
  6. Try a salt water rinse. Salt water has antiseptic qualities, and dentists often recommend it when treating wounds or infections in the mouth. Salt water can also kill the bacteria that causes cavities, slowing their growth until you can get to the dentist.[15][16]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water.
    • Swish a mouthful of this water around your mouth for 1 minute. Concentrate on the affected tooth.
    • Repeat this treatment 3 times daily.
  7. Brush your teeth with licorice root. Although it hasn't been studied extensively, there is evidence that licorice root can help prevent and slow the growth of cavities. It may kill cavity-causing bacteria and can cut down on inflammation.[17][18] Try using licorice root for a home remedy to slow cavity growth while you wait for an appointment at the dentist.
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Some toothpastes made by Tom's of Maine contain licorice root.[19] Alternatively, you could buy some licorice root powder at the store and mix it with your toothpaste.
    • Make sure to look for deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which does not contain glycyrrhiza, a compound that can cause unpleasant and often serious side effects.[20]
    • Always consult with your doctor before you use licorice root. It can interact with certain medications, including ACE inhibitors, insulin, MAO inhibitors, and oral contraceptives. It can also cause health problems for people with certain medical conditions, including liver or kidney disease, diabetes, heart failure or heart disease, or hormone-sensitive cancers.[21]
  8. Avoid refined sugar. Cavities are caused by acid-producing bacteria that thrive in acidic environments. These bacteria use sugar found in dental plaque as fuel. This is why sugary foods and beverages should be minimized. If possible, brush your teeth after eating.[22][23]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Foods high in starch, like potatoes, bread, and pasta, also provide a welcoming environment for acid-producing bacteria. Keep your simple and refined carbohydrate intake low, and brush your teeth after eating.[24]

EditVisiting the Dentist to Treat a Cavity

  1. Discuss treatment options with your dentist. Depending on your cavity's progression, your dentist may recommend different types of treatment. If you have any questions about treatment procedures, ask your dentist.
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 9 Version 2.jpg
  2. Get a professional fluoride treatment. If your cavity is just beginning and is still very small, your dentist may be able suggest no invasive treatment and to treat it with a heavy application of fluoride. This is usually painted onto the tooth and left to sit for a few minutes. It will help restore the enamel in the affected area and, if done early enough, will remineralize the tooth.[25]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • While this treatment usually only takes a few minutes, you won't be able to eat or drink for at least 30 minutes afterward to allow the fluoride to properly sink in.
  3. Have your cavity filled if your dentist recommends it. Most often cavities aren't caught early enough for fluoride to be effective. The cavity will then require a filling. During this process, the dentist will drill out the affected portion of your tooth. S/he will then fill the hole with some sort of material.[26]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Commonly, your dentist will use porcelain or a composite resin to fill a cavity, especially for front teeth. These are top choices because they can be shaded to match your tooth’s natural appearance.[27]
    • Dentists may fill cavities in back teeth with silver alloy or gold, as these tend to be stronger. Plaque also usually builds up more extensively on the back teeth.[28]
  4. Talk to your dentist about a root canal if your cavity has progressed into the pulp of your tooth. S/he will remove the infected pulp of your tooth, use an antiseptic to remove bacteria, and then fill it with a sealing material. This is usually a last effort to save the tooth before extraction.[29]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • In most cases, you will need a crown (a “cap” for your tooth) when you require a root canal.[30]
  5. Ask your dentist about tooth extraction if the damage from a cavity is so severe that the tooth can't be salvaged. In this case, the dentist will extract the affected tooth. After this, you can have the tooth replaced with some form of dental implant, both for cosmetic purposes and to prevent your other teeth from shifting position.[31]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 13.jpg

EditPreventing Cavities

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day. Keep your teeth clean and healthy by brushing them twice a day. Use a soft-bristled brush, and replace it every 3-4 months. To ensure that you're brushing your teeth effectively, use the following instructions from the American Dental Association.[32]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 14.jpg
    • Angle the toothbrush 45 degrees to the gumline. Plaque tends to build up on the gumline.
    • Gently move the brush back and forth using small strokes. The strokes should only be about the width of one tooth.
    • Brush both the outer and inner surfaces of your teeth.
    • Continue brushing for about two minutes.
    • Finish by brushing your tongue. If you miss your tongue, you'll leave behind a lot of bacteria that will recontaminate your mouth as soon as you stop brushing.
    • Repeat this at least twice a day.
  2. Floss your teeth daily. Along with brushing, flossing is crucial for maintaining a healthy mouth. You should try to floss at least once a day, though twice would be ideal. Follow these simple steps to make sure you're flossing your teeth properly.
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 15.jpg
    • Take about 18 inches of floss. Wrap most of it around the middle finger of one hand, the rest around your other middle finger.
    • Grasp the string tightly between your thumb and forefinger. Use a rubbing motion to guide it between teeth.
    • When the floss reaches the gum line, form a “C” shape to follow the shape of the tooth.
    • Hold the strand firmly against the tooth, and move it gently up and down.
    • Repeat the entire process with the rest of your teeth.
    • Use fresh sections of floss as you go.
    • If your teeth are packed very tightly, look for a waxed or “easy glide” floss. You may also find the small pre-threaded flossers more helpful. The most important thing is to floss faithfully.[33]
  3. Rinse with an American Dental Association-approved mouthwash. Some mouth rinses only mask bad breath without killing the bacteria and removing the plaque that causes bad breath and cavities. When buying a mouthwash, look for the ADA seal of acceptance, indicating that the ADA has examined this product and approved its plaque-fighting ability.[34]Click here for a complete list of ADA-approved mouthwashes.
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 16.jpg
    • Make sure you purchase a mouthwash that can help reduce plaque, fight gingivitis and cavities, and reduce bad breath.[35]
    • There are plenty of low-alcohol or no-alcohol mouthwashes that can still be good for your oral health. If you can’t handle the “burn” from traditional mouthwashes, look for one of these.
  4. Maintain a tooth-healthy diet. What you eat has a big effect on your oral health. Some foods are beneficial for your teeth, while others should be kept to a minimum or avoid altogether.[36][37]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 17.jpg
    • Eat foods high in fiber. Fiber helps push plaque off of your teeth. It also stimulates production of saliva, which helps clean harmful acids and enzymes off your teeth. For fiber, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grain products.
    • Eat dairy products. Milk, cheese, and plain yogurt also stimulate production of saliva. They also contain calcium, which strengthens your tooth enamel.
    • Drink tea. Nutrients in green and black tea help break down plaque and slow the growth of bacteria. Brewing your tea with water containing fluoride will give you a double dose of nutrients for your teeth.
    • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Sugar increases the growth of plaque and bacteria, leading to tooth decay. Keep candy and soft drinks to a minimum. If you do eat sugary foods, do so with a meal and drink plenty of water. This way, your mouth will produce more saliva which will help wash away the sugar and reduce acid and bacterial growth.
    • Brush your teeth after eating starchy foods. Foods like potatoes and corn get stuck in between teeth more readily, leading to tooth decay. Be sure to clean your teeth after eating these foods to avoid cavities.
  5. Avoid acidic beverages. Drinks such as soft drinks, alcohol, and even fruit juice are acidic, and can promote bacteria growth that causes tooth decay.[38][39][40] Consume these in moderation, or not at all.
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 18.jpg
    • The biggest culprits are sports drinks like Gatorade, energy drinks like Red Bull, and sodas such as Coke. Carbonation may promote tooth wear.[41][42]
    • Drink plenty of water. Rinse your mouth with water after drinking an acidic beverage.
    • Remember that even 100% pure fruit juice contains sugar. Dilute 100% pure fruit juice with equal parts water, especially for kids. Limit your consumption and rinse your mouth with water after drinking fruit juice.
  6. Visit the dentist regularly. Usually dentists like to see their patients every 6 months. Stick to this schedule to ensure your mouth stays healthy. During your visit, the dentist will give your teeth a thorough cleaning, eliminating any plaque that has built up over the last few months. S/he will also check for any signs of cavities, gum disease, or any other issues you may have with your oral health.[43]
    Keep a Cavity from Getting Worse Step 19.jpg
    • Your dentist can also help you catch cavities while they are very small. If your dentist catches a cavity early enough, s/he can treat it without invasive procedures.
    • For example, lifestyle changes, proper mouth hygiene, and fluoride treatments may be enough to treat very small cavities. They can stimulate “remineralization,” a natural regeneration process.[44]

EditTips

  • A typical tooth cleaning appointment at the dentist’s office generally involves scaling, polishing, and fluoride varnish.

EditWarnings

  • If you think you have a cavity, you should go see a dentist. While keeping the cavity from getting worse is a good idea, the only way to really treat the cavity is to have it removed by your dentist.
  • You may not know that you have cavities because they don’t always exhibit symptoms. Make sure to go to your dentist for a regular checkup.

EditRelated wikiHows

  • Avoid Tooth Decay
  • Get Rid of Gingivitis
  • Cure a Toothache

EditSources and Citations


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