Tooth Cavity - Pain, Causes Hole in Tooth, Decay, Molar and Front Tooth Filling, Prevention

A young woman being examined by a dentist

Price/Cost table

TypePrice/Cost $SGD
Silver/amalgam fillingstarting at $50
Glass ionomer filling$75 - $300
Composite resin fillin$100 - 500

Tooth cavity is a relatively common occurrence in both children and adults. It is not a serious issue but it can grow into one if not detected and treated on time. The solution is to visit your dentist regularly and have dental fillings whenever that’s necessary. In addition, you can implement a series of steps on how to reverse tooth decay and we are about to talk about all these things in the article to follow.

Check out how dental caries forms, what can happen if it’s not removed, and how to avoid it altogether. Hoping this will get you to maintain good oral health at all times so you don’t have to ever need a crown or bridge, or more complex dental work.

What Causes Cavities and How They Form

When you consume the likes of fruit, candy, bread, soda, cake, or other carbohydrates, the bacteria that are naturally lodged in your oral cavity convert them into acids 1. The longer they sit on your teeth, along with other food particles and dental plaque, the more time they have to knock your tooth enamel down.

The damage manifests itself as tiny openings on the surface that may differ in colour, from yellow to black, grey, and even white. Other names for cavities are tooth decay and dental caries.

But food isn’t the only cause of cavities. Different risk factors can up your chances of getting one.

Plaque. When you let plaque build on your pearly whites, over time it starts to eat the minerals away from the enamel, causing holes in teeth. This allows the bacteria to reach down into the dentin and then directly seep into the pulp since these two are connected. If you are wondering what causes all that sensitivity and pain when tooth decay progresses, it’s the acid and bacteria taking over your nerves.

Woman brushing her teeth in the morning

Poor brushing technique or lack of oral hygiene altogether. Most people are reluctant to give their teeth a good brush. To do an effective job, you have to take your time and really get into it. The rule of thumb is: you should spend approximately 30 seconds on each tooth. There are some good videos online showing the proper way to do it but you can also ask your dentist for some tips.

It is wise to put money into a good toothbrush, preferably an electric one. They come in different brands, sizes, and models and can get to the most hard-to-reach areas in your mouth, such as the back teeth, behind your molars, and up to the wisdom teeth.

Certain foods. Foods that have the tendency to cling onto the teeth such as chips, cereal, sugary foods 2, ice cream, jelly, marshmallows, etc. will make your teeth more receptive to caries. Carbohydrates are the biggest tooth offender.

Acid reflux. This is a condition in which gastric juice from the stomach is forced into the oesophagus and then into your mouth. Since it happens often, over time it can shorten the life of your teeth.

Eating disorders. Vomiting, which is common in people with the condition bulimia nervosa 3 4, brings a lot of acids from the stomach into the mouth. Again, this can break the tooth enamel down.

Dry mouth. Saliva has a purpose. Aside from helping you digest food and make it into smaller chunks, it also acts as a cleanser of debris. It has been found that the substances that the saliva contains can neutralise some bacteria. Certain conditions and medications can reduce the production of saliva which leads to more cavities.

Lack of fluoride. In case you were wondering why they put fluoride in toothpaste, here is why. It turns out fluoride is a vital mineral that benefits the teeth. It is now tossed in public water supplies but if you tend to drink mostly bottled water, you may not be getting enough of the mineral.

Signs That You Have Dental Caries/Cavity

  • Pockets in your teeth
  • Hot or cold sensitivity
  • Unexpected toothache
  • Pain with biting into foods
  • Stains or black spots on teeth

Tooth Decay Stages or What Occurs When a Cavity is Left Untreated

If you have a cavity for too long, it will spread around and eventually make it to the pulp (which is the soft part of the tooth holding all the nerves and connective tissue). This could easily grow into an infection, an abscess in medical speak, which is an invitation for bacteria to stick around.

By and large, the tooth decay process can be summarised as follows: 1) white spots; 2) pockets in the enamel; 3) dentin decay; 4) damage to the pulp; 5) formation of tooth abscess; 5) tooth loss.

When the pulp is damaged, it calls for root canal treatment and if it’s already too late for that, your tooth will have to be taken out. And that’s not pretty.

But that’s not all. If bacteria find their way into the bloodstream, they can get you into a lot of trouble. One of the most likely outcomes is endocarditis - an infection of the inner layer of tissue in the heart which occurs when germs, fungi, or bacteria from other parts of the body end up in the bloodstream and reach the heart.

Gum disease and gingivitis are other conditions to watch out for. If not catered for, they can lead to general health problems.

Tooth Decay Treatments: How to get rid of Cavities

Focused stomatologist treating woman for dental cavity

So, now that you know that a cavity can turn into a serious issue if not addressed in due time, let’s have a look at the treatment options. It’s common knowledge that when you develop tooth decay, you have to get a filling. Here is more about the process.

It entails removing all the decay, which basically creates a bigger hole in the tooth that has to be filled with dental material at a later stage.

The way that cavity treatments start is by making sure that the patient is not in pain. In this time and age, dental practitioners will inject lidocaine, or other forms of local anaesthetic, in the gums around the affected tooth. If the decay has only affected the tooth enamel, there is not likely to be pain. So, the technician may ask you if you want to numb the area after all. Once you are comfortable, they will begin dental work.

Your tooth will be isolated with lignin or a rubber dam to keep saliva away from the affected area. The damaged part is removed using the right dental tools. If it has reached the dentin, medication might have to be applied and you will be sent home. You will have to schedule a visit for another day to allow enough time for the medication to do its thing.

If this step is not necessary, your tooth will be filled the first time around. There are different types of materials that can be used. Your dentist and you will deliberate on your options and agree on the best one.

Amalgam or silver tooth decay fillings are almost non-existent these days but there may be dental establishments that still use them. The more common choices are composite resin and glass ionomer composite fillings. They both have their upsides in terms of durability and aesthetics. What is more essential is that they successfully match the colour of your teeth so that other people don’t need to know you have a filling. It will be between you and your dentist. You know what they say: what happens at the dentist’s stays at the dentist’s.

And that’s about it for the process. Once the filling is placed, it will take 5 minutes for 90% of it to set and the specialist will probably tell you that you can eat and drink immediately if you want. The rest of the material will set within the next 24 hours.

That being said, if you choose a silver filling, you will have to refrain from consuming foods and drinks for a couple of hours to allow enough time for it to harden. Just like the other materials, though, it will take all day and all night for it to reach full strength.

Tooth Cavity Fillings Cost

All of the numbers suggested here are ballpark representations of the price you will have to pay before you walk out of the dental clinic. Keep in mind that your bill will differ per location, facility, and type of filling.

  • Silver/amalgam filling: $50.00 onwards
  • Glass ionomer filling: $75.00-$95.00 onwards (up to $300.00)
  • Composite resin filling: $100.00 and above (up to $500.00)

The complexity of the task will also play a role. Some tooth cavities are more difficult to treat because of their position or severity. It is self-evident that if additional orthodontic work is required, such as root canal treatment, this will render the procedure exorbitant. Local anaesthetic and other medications will add to the cost too.

How to Stop Tooth Decay from Spreading

Dealing with a dental cavity is anything but exciting. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it is never fun. Even with the advantages that the modern world readily offers, having dental drills go into your mouth always feels close to a nightmare. And paying the bill afterwards is even worse.

So, what do you do to never let it happen or to at least experience it less often because you don’t need the added stress? Well, you can start by taking your night-time routine seriously and throwing in a few improvements to your lifestyle. Here are some suggestions.

Maintain good dental hygiene. Brush your teeth well after every meal as it will help prevent tooth cavity. However, we all know that in a fast-paced world, that’s not realistic for many of us. That’s why it is crucial to wash your teeth twice a day (at the very least) with some fluoride toothpaste. Don’t forget to floss on the regular as well. Mouth rinse should be the third step of your dental care routine. New research suggests that covering the teeth with bioactive peptides help protect the teeth and prevent new cavities and caries from developing 5.

Eschew frequent sipping and snacking. Eating moderately and frequently is better than having a large meal at once. But snacking constantly will create work for the teeth and they will be under a lot of stress all the time. Not to mention, the food will trigger the bacteria to make more acid, which will damage your enamel. So, you should try and limit those bad habits.

Watch your foods and drinks. Cut down on the likes of alcohol, bread, sour candies, carbonated beverages, dried fruits, starch, potato chips, sugary foods, soda, and sticky foods, to name a few. What you eat matters. Instead, focus on stuff that increases your saliva flow such as fresh veggies and fruits. You can also use sugar-free gum between meals.

Drink tap water. Now, we don’t suggest you do this in areas where tap water is not okay to drink. But if you live in a place where tap water is considered safe, there is no stopping you from having a glass or two a day. That is, unless you can’t stand the taste of it and would rather go with bottled water. But in that case, you need to think of other ways to get your daily fluoride treatment.

Stick with an antibacterial treatment. If nothing else works and you seem to be prone to getting tooth cavities no matter what, ask your dentist about a special mouth rinse to reduce the risk of getting tooth decay. Certain medications and conditions could be making you susceptible to tooth issues. The use of antibacterial treatments might be a game-changer.

Visit your dentist every few months. The more often you make appointments with a specialist, the smaller the likelihood of letting a problem go undetected for a long time. This way, you will have all the issues addressed right away before they have gotten the chance to become more advanced.


Q: What can help with tooth cavity pain?

A: There are different therapies you can try to relieve your toothache. These include rinsing your mouth with hydrogen peroxide, saltwater, and peppermint tea. You might also try holding a cold compress against the cheek where the affected tooth is. Of course, the best route to take is to see a specialist immediately and have the issue sorted out once and for all.

Q: How to cover a cavity on the front tooth?

A: When you grow tooth decay on the front, visible part of your mouth, it can be intimidating. All you think about is how this will ruin the aesthetics of your smile. But don’t worry about it. The dentist will place a front tooth cavity filling that will perfectly match the natural colour of your pearly whites. Nobody will be able to tell the difference.

Q: Is children tooth decay common?

A: Around 20% of children between five and eleven years of age experience at least one cavity. This means that one of five kids is currently dealing with this in their life. In fact, they are more likely to get rotten teeth. Dental sealant has been shown to prevent caries in children 6

Thus, proper oral hygiene policy should be set in place in the family to improve the offspring’s dental health. As a parent, you should set a good example. You can’t expect your kid to maintain pearly whites if you don’t brush your teeth twice a day yourself.

Q: Is it normal to experience toothache after a filling?

A: Once your dental visit is over, the treated area may feel a little sensitive. But there should be no tooth pain. So, if you experience throbbing pain a few hours after the procedure, do bring it up to your dentist. Something amiss must be going on there.

Q: Which one do I stick with: alcohol-based vs alcohol-free mouthwash?

A: Considering all the TV commercials these days, it’s no surprise people reach down for the bottle of alcohol-based mouthwash. It makes sense, right? Alcohol has disinfecting properties and so it should be able to efficiently rid your smile of bacteria and germs. This in turn ought to help prevent tooth decay.

However, it is not 100% safe. Remember that your mouth is home to colonies of good bacteria as well. And when ethanol kills the bag guys, it will also do away with the good ones. This is the last thing you want to happen. It will create an imbalance that will lead to bad breath, dry mouth, and other more serious complications.

Now, alcohol-free mouthwash is not so notorious for doing an efficient job. Yet, it is a much better option since it promotes stronger saliva flow and does no injury to the good buddies lingering around your pearly whites. The bottom line is, you might want to alternate between these two for better results or completely leave behind mouthwash containing ethanol.