What Happens if You Don’t Fill a Cavity?

Our smiles are one of the first features that people notice about us, and a crucial part of preserving your smiles is maintaining good oral health and visiting the dentist every six months. If your dentist points out a cavity during your regular checkup, you might think it’s barely causing any discomfort or none at all, so it’s tempting to let it slide, right? But what happens if you delay treatment or ignore it? Perhaps you’ve even wondered if cavities might somehow vanish on their own. After all, some dental concerns tend to improve with proper care. Unfortunately, when it comes to cavities, brushing them off can lead to more trouble down the line. In this article, we will explore what happens if you ignore a small cavity and why taking immediate action is crucial to preserve your oral health.

Main Points

  • Cavity Progression: Cavities do not heal themselves. If left untreated, they can result in increased sensitivity, severe tooth pain, tooth damage, bacterial infections, and even tooth loss.
  • Long-Term Impact: Ignoring cavities can lead to complex dental treatments, gum disease, systemic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes, and financial burdens due to escalating treatment costs.
  • Dental Filling Process: The typical process involves an examination of the tooth, removal of the decayed portion, cleaning and filling of the cavity, and final polishing to restore the tooth’s normal function and shape.
  • Prevention: Maintaining oral hygiene through regular brushing, flossing, scheduled dental check-ups, and a balanced diet are vital for preventing cavities.

What is a Cavity?

Tooth decay and cavities are common dental concerns that can be prevented. The formation of a cavity occurs when plaque on the tooth’s surface produces acid that gradually dissolves the tooth’s enamel, which can gradually lead to a cavity. Filling a cavity is a routine dental procedure that can stop the progression of decay and restore the tooth structure.

What Happens When You Leave a Cavity Untreated?

Once a cavity has formed, it will not heal itself, and it is not recommended to leave a cavity untreated. If left untreated, it will continue to grow and cause significant damage to the tooth and the surrounding area. Here are some of the potential outcomes that may arise from neglecting a cavity:

  • Increased tooth sensitivity and pain: A small cavity can expand over time, reaching the interior nerve within the tooth and causing severe tooth pain and sensitivity.
  • Tooth breakage: As cavities enlarge, they compromise the tooth’s structural integrity, increasing the likelihood of breakage.
    Bacterial invasion: Larger cavities provide ideal pathways for bacteria to increase, leading to severe pain, dental abscesses, and infections.
  • Tooth loss: In severe cases, untreated cavities can escalate to the point that the tooth must be extracted to prevent further complications.

Why It’s Important to Fill Cavities Early (While They’re Small)

The implications of neglecting cavities go beyond temporary discomfort and may even persist in the long run. Filling cavities in their early stages is crucial to prevent their spread and avoid more complicated and costly treatments later on. The following are some long-term consequences of not filling a cavity:

  • Advanced dental treatments: Untreated cavities may require more complex dental procedures, such as root canals, dental implants, or extraction of the afflicted tooth.
  • Gum disease: Advanced tooth decay can lead to bacterial infection spreading below the gum line, increasing the risk of gum disease.
  • Health complications: Poor oral health can lead to the development of chronic systemic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and  respiratory issues.
  • Loss of adjacent teeth: Infections stemming from an untreated cavity can spread to adjacent teeth, potentially causing more tooth loss and requiring complex dental interventions.
  • Financial repercussions: Treating advanced tooth decay or other significant dental illnesses can be significantly costlier compared to promptly addressing a cavity. Unfortunately, neglecting dental treatment to save money may lead to substantial expenses in the future. Those with dental insurance can often benefit from coverage for at least part of the tooth filling cost. For those without insurance, most dental offices offer a dental membership plan to help reduce some of the out-of-pocket expenses.

Dental Filling Process

Getting a cavity filled is a common dental procedure that helps in restoring the normal function and shape of the affected tooth. However, it’s important to note that every patient and cavity is different, so the treatment process may vary slightly from the general explanation provided here. It’s crucial to discuss with your dentist what to expect during the dental filling procedure. The treatment process usually involves several steps.

  • Examination: Initially, the dentist will use a small mirror to inspect the surfaces of each tooth. Anything that looks abnormal will then be closely checked with special instruments.
  • Preparation: Next, local anesthesia is administered to numb the area around the tooth, and the decayed portion of the tooth is removed.
  • Filling the Cavity: Once all the decay has been removed, the dentist will prepare the space for the filling by cleaning the cavity of bacteria and debris.
  • Finishing up: After filling the cavity, the dentist will finish and polish it.

Symptoms of Cavities

Cavities, also known as tooth decay, often begin with subtle symptoms. If you experience any of these signs, consult with your dentist to prevent further damage. This includes:

  • Mild tooth sensitivity: Feeling discomfort when eating sweet, hot, or cold foods could be an early indication of a cavity.
  • Occasional toothache: A sporadic aching or throbbing sensation can signal the onset of tooth decay.
  • Visible holes: Sometimes, cavities present themselves as holes or pits in the teeth.
  • Brownish-black stains: Unsightly stains on the teeth can be a manifestation of dental decay.

How to Prevent Cavities

Preventing cavities is best done proactively through the following measures to maintain excellent oral hygiene.

  • Regular brushing: Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Flossing: Daily flossing removes food debris and plaque between your teeth, reducing the risk of cavities.
  • Mouthwash: An antimicrobial mouthwash can help kill bacteria contributing to tooth decay.
  • Dental check-ups: Regular dental check-ups and cleanings ensure early detection of cavities and timely treatment.
  • Healthy diet: Limit consumption of sugary, acidic, and sticky foods, and aim for a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
  • Dental sealants: A dental sealant is a protective coating applied to your teeth’ chewing surfaces to prevent tooth decay.


At Sloan Creek Dental, your comfort is our utmost priority before we proceed with any dental procedure. We ensure you have the requisite time to feel relaxed and prepared. For those with extreme dental fear or who require extensive restorative treatment, we offer sedation options that can be administered for even deeper relaxation. It’s important to know that dental fillings are typically minimally invasive, and numbing medication is usually more than sufficient. We aim to make your experience pain-free and comfortable!

Early-stage tooth decay often allows treatment to save the natural tooth. The most common solution is a dental filling. This procedure involves removing the decayed area of the tooth and filling the space with materials like composite resin.

For larger cavities weakening the tooth, a dental crown might be recommended. This cap covers the tooth, providing protection and strength. If the cavity reaches the tooth’s pulp or nerve, a root canal becomes necessary. A root canal procedure involves removing infected or damaged tissue to restore the tooth.

In severe cases where the tooth can’t be saved due to extensive damage from the cavity, extraction might be the only option.

Tooth decay impacts several individuals at different stages of their lives and progresses through several stages over time. Here’s a brief overview of the stages of a cavity, drawing information from the helpful dental resources of First Chair Dental.

1. Demineralization Begins

The first stage of a cavity is the beginning of demineralization. This is when the enamel, the tooth’s hard outer layer, starts to weaken. This stage is often denoted by the appearance of some white or dark spots on your tooth—a phase also referred to as a “microcavity.” It’s possible that you may not be consciously aware of the cavity at all at this stage. Fortunately, at this juncture, the damage can be reversed. Regular visits to a dentist, taking fluoride treatments, and modifying your diet to reduce the acid in your mouth can help fight this early stage of decay.

2. Enamel Decay

With enamel decay, the protective layer on your teeth, the enamel, is damaged. You may start to feel some sensitivity in your tooth that has been affected at this point. A dentist can apply a small filling to the outer layer of enamel to prevent further damage and protect your tooth.

3. Dentin Decay

As the enamel decay progresses and gains access to the dentin, the soft layer beneath the enamel, tooth decay escalates significantly. Dentin decay may manifest as pain and is your tooth’s way of alerting you to schedule a dentist visit immediately. Depending on the level of damage, this stage may require a filling or more extensive dental treatment.

4. Pulp Decay

At the pulp decay stage, the bacteria in your mouth have infected the pulp—the innermost layer of the tooth where the vital nerves and blood vessels reside. This stage will be accompanied by substantial pain and signifies the presence of a severe cavity. A root canal is generally required to treat pulp decay and save the tooth.

5. Abscess Develops

The final stage in the journey of a cavity is the formation of an abscess—a serious infection resulting in a pus-filled pocket within the tooth. An abscess is typically accompanied by acute pain. Like pulp decay, an abscess is treated with a root canal, but in some cases, it may necessitate additional surgical intervention or even a tooth extraction.

Understanding the progression of dental decay can empower you to take the necessary preventive measures and seek timely dental care—key to preserving your oral health and that radiant smile!

Trust Your Smile to the Experts at Sloan Creek Dental

Neglecting cavities is a mistake that can significantly impact not just your oral health but potentially your overall health and finances. While cavities are a prevalent dental concern, the good news is that they can be treated effectively and prevented with proper care. Prioritize your dental health by adhering to good oral hygiene practices, ensuring regular dental check-ups, and by addressing cavities as soon as they arise. A healthy smile starts with taking care of your teeth today.

We understand that the idea of visiting the dentist makes some feel anxious. If you happen to be in the Allen Fairview area, we take patient comfort very seriously. At Sloan Creek Dental, we strive to offer a peaceful and relaxing environment coupled with compassionate, top-notch dental care. If you need a filling, you can reach us at our Fairview, TX dental office to schedule a dental check-up appointment with us today – 972-468-1440.

Our dental office is located in Fairview, Texas, and our patients visit us from across the surrounding areas, including Allen, Plano, McKinney, and Lucas.