This is one of the most common questions we get as dentists. Cavities are caused by acid producing bacteria that eat away at the tooth surface eroding and creating holes. This process can happen faster or slower in different people and can be painful in one person or completely asymptomatic in another. Here are some reasons why it is important to not rely on pain alone as an indicator of a problem.
In young children and older adults the nerves in the teeth are naturally not very sensitive compared to other age groups. Because of this cavities can start and grow undetected by the individual for a long time before they start causing pain. By the time any changes are perceived the cavity could have grown large enough to necessitate more extensive dental repair or become unsalvageable. This is the same reason we often do not have to use freezing when doing dental work on young children or older adults. Therefore it is important to come in for regular dental check ups and have routine x-rays taken to catch these problems while they are still small.
Cavities that are in there early stages can be completely asymptomatic and only be noticed by a dental professional. This is not to say we need to treat all these small cavities but detecting them in this early stage will allow us to better direct patients in how to prevent their progression with change in habits and diet.
Root canal treated teeth
Teeth that have had root canal treatment can still get cavities if not properly sealed and maintained. In these teeth however the nerve has been removed and it will not feel pain despite a cavity that could be growing inside. Therefore we rely on x-rays and visual assessment for detecting issues on these teeth.
All in all, pain is certainly a good indicator for a problem but the absence of pain does not mean there are no dental issues. Our Whitby Dentists always aim to be preventative and catch issues when they are in their early stages. We advice regular 9 -12 month check ups with a dentist and dental cleanings every 3-6 months.