How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated?

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Imagine noticing a small cavity in your tooth, and dismissing it.

How Long Can You Leave a Cavity Untreated?

Only months later- excruciating pain strikes out of nowhere. A neglected dental issue can lead to several problems down the line.

The article explores how minor dental issues can evolve into serious oral health issues and emphasizes the importance of getting timely dental care. Ignoring small dental problems like cavities or chipped teeth can result in increased pain, infection, and the need for more complex and expensive procedures. 

Reasons you shouldn’t leave dental cavities untreated 

A dental cavity doesn’t develop overnight. It starts as a small hole and continues to spread deeper into a tooth, over months and years. While a small cavity might not cause immediate problems, left untreated, it will continue to expand and get worse.

Early detection and intervention are key to preventing serious complications.

It takes up to five years for a cavity to fully develop to the point of needing attention, but it is advised to not let cavities go untreated for more than a few months. After a year the untreated cavity causes serious problems to the tooth structure, and after two-plus years, infection may spread to other teeth and you may need a root canal.

Ignoring your Cavities won’t make them go away: Cavities cannot heal or go away on their own (unless it’s in the very, very early stages). If ignored, they can progress deeper and wider, and further break down the enamel, spreading to the softer dentin layer underneath.

Cavities are Painful: Under the hard outer layers of a tooth(enamel and dentin), lies dental pulp containing roots and nerves. If a cavity spreads deep enough to reach the pulp, it exposes these nerves resulting in severe pain.

Risking Infection & Tooth Loss: Tooth loss is another serious consequence of an untreated cavity. An untreated cavity that reaches the nerves and blood vessels, eventually causes the pulp to die- needing them to be extracted.

The missing tooth/teeth would need to be replaced by a bridge, implant, or denture. This ensures that the remaining teeth do not shift away from their original position as it impacts how you chew, bite, and speak.   

Impact of Delaying Dental Care

Increased pain and infection: Untreated dental conditions result in toothaches, sensitivity, and gum inflammation, that intensify over time, making it difficult to perform daily tasks such as eating, speaking, or even concentrating.

More complex and expensive procedures: Dental problems if ignored, often worsen with time and lead to significant damage and discomfort. Ignoring a minor issue can lead to more invasive and costly procedures like root canals or tooth extractions. Therefore, it’s crucial to address dental issues right away.

Root Canal Treatment

Financial strain: Delaying dental treatment, not only puts your oral health at risk but also gets heavy on the pocket. A small cavity that could have been treated by a filling with early detection, when delayed, may progress to a point where it requires a more extensive and expensive procedure such as a root canal, dental crown, or even a dental implant.

Additionally, if the condition worsens, it could involve other teeth and surrounding tissues, leading to a more complex treatment and financial strain.

 Signs and Symptoms of an untreated dental cavity

The symptoms of cavities vary, depending on the location and how deep the cavity has spread. The most common symptoms include

  • Toothache and other pain
  • Tooth Sensitivity
  • Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
  • Holes or pits in your teeth that you can see
  • Brown, black, or white staining on any surface of a tooth
  • Pain when you bite down

Complications of an untreated cavity

When the cavity spreads deep enough to reach the pulp, the nerve is exposed. This allows the bacteria to easily transport from the tooth to the surrounding gums and bone, resulting in swelling and inflammation, associated with the cavity.

With the spread of bacterial infection, there is a risk of abscesses, which are filled with pus, and that could become infected without proper care.

Preventing and Treating Cavities

To prevent cavities, follow these oral hygiene tips: 

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day every day with fluoride toothpaste, for 2 minutes.
  2. Floss daily to clean between teeth
  3. Be regular with your routine teeth cleanings and oral exams. Ask your dentist if you are at a high caries of caries and need preventive treatments like dental sealants and/or fluoride treatments
  4.  Avoid snacks and beverages that are highly acidic or contain excessive sugar. 

Treatment Options for Cavities

Treatment options vary depending on the location and how wide the cavity has spread. These include

Fluoride treatment can reverse cavities in the early stages and prevent further damage.


Dental Fillings are another option for a cavity that has spread in the enamel or dentin layer of a tooth. There are different filling materials available, and your dentist can suggest the best options depending on your case.

Dental crowns are custom-fitted coverings that can be used for severe decay or weakened teeth. Crowns cover’s entire natural crown of a tooth, and can be made of gold, metal, ceramic, or porcelain fused to metal.

Root canal treatment: When a cavity spreads up to the inner layer of the pulp, it requires root canal treatment. It repairs and saves a badly damaged or infected tooth instead of removing it. The diseased tooth pulp is removed, and a filling is placed inside. 

Tooth extractions are necessary for teeth that cannot be saved by dental restoration and must be removed. After extraction, the missing tooth can be replaced by an implant or a bridge


When dealing with a dental cavity, time is of the essence. Months can be OK, but years are not. By seeking care early, you can reduce the need for more extensive treatment for cavities.

Delaying treatment will make the problem worse, needing more complex and expensive procedures down the line. Timely detection and treatment can mean the difference between a simple filling and a more complex and invasive root canal or crown.

In conclusion, be proactive with your oral health, Don’t let discomfort or fear keep you from seeking timely treatment. Address dental issues promptly to maintain a healthy and radiant smile. 

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