Cavities (tooth decay) are one the world’s most common health problems. Although anyone can get a cavity, they are especially common in children, teenagers and young adults.

Cavities refers to damage to the structure of a tooth/teeth resulting in formation of holes in your tooth/teeth.

The most common cause of tooth decay is due to the build-up of bacteria and plaque, which can be an indication of a lack in good oral hygiene. Foods containing carbohydrates, such as sugar and starches, will cause a build-up of bacteria and plaque (which contains acid) in the mouth if not cleaned properly, which can cause the enamel in your teeth to dissolve.

If cavities are left untreated for too long, they will get worse and larger and will start to affect the deeper layers of your teeth (dentin layer). Thus, you must give importance to good dental habits (e.g. brushing and flossing), and it is recommended to pay regular visits to your dentist in order to avoid the risk of cavities or another dental problem. The faculty at the T​eeth and Skin​ services at The Aga Khan University Hospital is e​xperienced ​in managing all dental problems including cavities.

It may not always be obvious that you have a cavity, because the signs and indicators vary according to the extent and the location of the decay. In fact, you may not display any symptoms at all if a cavity is at an initial stage. That’s why it is important to pay regular visits to the dentist who might be able to discover a cavity during a check-up before it gets more serious. X-rays may also reveal cavities before they become visible.

However, as the decay becomes greater, the symptoms may become more obvious. Some common symptoms are when:

  • You detect holes or pits in your teeth   

  • You experience toothaches

  • You experience pain when you bite down 

  • You feel pain when eating/drinking something hot or cold, or sweet and sugary

  • You experience sensitivity in a tooth/teeth

  • You notice staining (black, brown or white) on the surface of a tooth/teeth​

As it may not always be obvious that you are experiencing tooth decay, it is not uncommon for a cavity to go unnoticed until the symptoms become more serious. This is why it is advised that you should pay regular visits to the dentist for general check-ups, as they might be able to discover a cavity during a check-up before it gets more serious.

However, as the decay becomes more serious and the symptoms become more obvious, it is essential to visit your doctor in order to prevent extensive damage. The sooner you see the doctor about a problem, the better your chances of preventing the progression of tooth decay in its early stages. 
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started. ​
If you visit the dentist during a regular check-up, they will start by asking you about your medical history and about whether you are experiencing any pain or sensitivity in your mouth. They will then conduct a thorough oral examination, using dental instruments to probe at your teeth, to determine if everything is normal or if there may be something that needs to be addressed. Furthermore, they may ask for X-ray, which can reveal cavities or other dental problems before they become outwardly visible. It is only after such tests that the dentist will be able to diagnose and suggest a course of treatment for you.  

The type and course of treatment you receive will vary according to a number of factors, such as the severity of the problem, your age, medical history and tolerance/aversion to certain types of medication(s), and so on. The earlier you seek treatment, the fewer the chances you will need extensive treatment. Treatment options available include:

  • Fluoride treatments – If your cavity is in its initial stages and has been caught early, you can be given a fluoride treatment that may help to restore your tooth’s enamel. Fluoride treatments may come in the form of gel, liquid, form or a varnish and they contain more fluoride than over-the-counter toothpaste and rinses.  

  • Fillings (restorations) – This is the most common type of treatment when decay has progressed beyond the initial erosion stage, and are made to fill the holes or pits that may have formed in your teeth. The decayed portion of your tooth is drilled and removed and replaced with a filling. These fillings can be made of a number of materials such as silver alloy, gold, porcelain; tooth-coloured composite resigns, and so on.

  • Root canals – If the decay progresses to a point where it has reached the inner nerves  of your tooth (pulp) and has caused it to die, then it may be necessary to remove this pulp in order to try and repair and save the badly infected tooth. After clearing the area with medication to clear up any infection, the pulp is then replaced with a filling.

  • Crowns – If your tooth/teeth have been extensively damaged or weakened due to decay, you may be advised to get a crown. A crown is a custom-fitted covering (made of gold, porcelain, resin or other materials), that replaces your tooth’s natural crown. Your dentist will need to drill away all of the decayed area and enough of the rest of your tooth to ensure a proper fit.

  • Tooth extractions – in some instances, the teeth become so badly decayed that it is no longer possible to restore and it is necessary to remove it. Once this tooth has been extracted, it can leave a gap that may cause your other teeth to shift. Thus it is suggested to consider getting a bridge or a dental implant that replaces the missing tooth/teeth.   ​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.