Smile Emergency: How to Stop a Cavity

Think you have a cavity? You need to see a professional but you can stop the cavity before it gets worse. Here's how

Many smile emergencies that we encounter—like sensitivity, staining and even chips—are surprisingly self-imposed. “Whether you’ve overbleached your teeth, cracked a tooth or consumed staining foods and drinks, people are ruining their smiles without even realizing it,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irwin Smigel, DDS. Luckily, most mishaps are easy to fix. “Accidents happen, but modern technology allows us to correct a variety of concerns fast with little to no downtime,” says Atlanta cosmetic dentist Ronald E. Goldstein, DDS.

Smile emegency:
“My tooth hurts when I eat or drink anything hot or cold. I think it may be the beginning of a cavity. How can I stop it before it gets worse?”

Why it happened:
What you’re experiencing didn’t happen overnight, even though it may seem like it. While it typically takes a few months or so for cavities to form, they usually go unnoticed until they become deep and cause pain. “Cavities are one of those things that sort of sneak up on you,” says New York cosmetic dentist Irene Grafman, DDS. “Most of the time, you don’t even realize you have one, which is why it’s important to see a dentist on a regular basis, before pain starts.”

How to fix it:
If brushing and flossing hasn’t helped, try taking an over-the-counter pain reliever to alleviate the discomfort. “Your dentist may recommend a toothpaste with fluoride, prescribe a higher-concentration alternative or administer in-office fluoride treatments,” says Dr. Goldstein. Adds Dr. Smigel, “You should also opt for tap water over bottled water so you get an extra dose of fluoride.” If you are still uncomfortable, it may be a sign that the cavity is no longer treatable at home and only your dentist can help. If the cavity is small and hasn’t seeped beyond your enamel, it may not need to be filled. Instead, an in-office fluoride treatment can harden the tooth and reverse the decay. According to the American Dental Association, fluoride not only helps to prevent cavities from forming, it also aids in repairing early stages of decay—before cavities are detected.

What if it’s too late:
If the cavity has already penetrated the deeper layers of your tooth, you will need to get it filled. “Today’s filling materials are very natural looking, mimicking the appearance of the teeth,” says Dr. Smigel. You’ll also want to talk with your dentist about a dental sealant, a clear layer of plastic that is painted over problematic teeth to seal them off and help prevent cavities in the future. “While it doesn’t help cavities that are already in need of repair, it’s great for those who are prone to decay, as it helps protect them moving forward. It’s also not a replacement for daily brushing and flossing,” says Dr. Goldstein.