Does my cavity need to be filled?
I see a number of patients who come to our practice after being told by another dentist that they have cavities. They don’t trust the diagnosis and are looking for a second opinion. While rarely do I see dentists misdiagnose a cavity, their treatment approach may differ from one practice to another.
That’s because there’s not a strict guideline on when to fill a cavity. Most dentists go by the appearance on the x-ray. However, each one will have their own guidelines that they follow. Some will be more conservative with fillings and others more aggressive.
In our office, we typically fill a cavity if the decay is more than ¾ of the way through the enamel and/or the patient has a high risk of cavities. What does this mean for you?
If you’ve had several cavities filled…
For a patient that has had numerous fillings over their lifetime, their risk of new decay is relatively high. So, if they come in with a cavity that is not quite ¾ of the way through the enamel, I may recommend filling the cavity. Their past dental history indicates that this area will likely get worse and filling it now is in their best interest.
Yet, filling the cavity will not prevent it from getting worse if the patient does not pay close attention to their dental care. Regular brushing and flossing is incredibly important after a filling because the filling material can create ledges and gaps in the tooth that are susceptible to decay.
If you’ve never had a cavity…
On the flip side, if a patient has never had a cavity, their risk is relatively low. So, an area of decay that is less than ¾ of the way through the enamel may never fully develop into a cavity. In these instances, I would recommend that we monitor the area of decay during regular 6-month cleanings.
However, it’s imperative that the patient sticks to this follow-up schedule. If the patient misses these appointments and their decay worsens, they may require a much more aggressive treatment such as a root canal. This could have been avoided with regular dental cleanings.
Whether you’ve had several cavities filled, or never had a cavity, proper dental hygiene is important to preventing and stopping decay. It’s also important that you work with a dentist that you trust who can (1) share their rationale behind their treatment plan and (2) show you on an x-ray where you have cavities. If for any reason your dentist cannot check these two boxes, get a second opinion.
Unsure of your dentist’s diagnosis? Call our office at 813-670-7160 to schedule an appointment with our trusted team.