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Do Cavities Always Hurt?

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For many people, cavities are immediately associated with pain. It's no surprise, considering that cavities can be quite painful. However, if you're worried that you might have a cavity or are just curious, you might wonder if every cavity hurts. The simple answer is that no, not every cavity will necessarily hurt you. Here's a breakdown of why and what you should do if you suspect you have a cavity.

The Early Stages

In the early stages of a cavity developing, it's very rare for pain to occur. This is because of the way that your teeth are built.

Teeth are made of bone, but they have multiple layers within the tooth. On the outside is the enamel, the hard shell that protects the rest of your tooth. Beneath that is the dentin and pulp.

When a cavity breaks through the enamel, there's generally no pain. This is because the enamel doesn't contain any nerve endings. Nerve endings are responsible for sending signals to the brain indicating that something is wrong, like pain. The dentin is also almost completely devoid of nerve endings, but the pulp contains many of them.

What this means is that while the bacteria and plaque in your mouth slowly chew through the tooth, you won't feel anything at first. It's actually possible to see a shallow hole in your tooth and still have no pain. Until the cavity progresses far enough, you'll likely be comfortable. However, once the pain starts, it's critical that you get help.

After a Root Canal

Of course, not every tooth has nerve endings. All healthy teeth should, but if you've undergone a root canal, those nerve endings are gone. Root canals remove all the interior tissues of a tooth during the procedure, which includes the nerve endings. With the pulp and dentin taken out, there's no way for the brain to receive a signal if the tooth is damaged or develops a cavity. While teeth that receive root canal are often protected by dental crowns, it's not impossible for a tooth that has had a root canal to experience a cavity. Unfortunately, without a warning sign, it's up to you to notice the cavity or a dentist finding it to prevent the tooth from being lost.

Getting Help

If you think you might have a cavity, the best thing you can do is reach out to a dentist. At the end of the day, getting a cavity treated that isn't deep and doesn't feel like anything is typically easier for patients to go through. In some cases, anesthesia may not even be necessary if the cavity is still in the enamel level of the tooth.