Whatever you call it, tooth decay, cavities or caries, it can occur without you even realizing it. It’s a serious matter that can trigger a great deal of pain. Learning what causes this condition, and how to recognize the

tooth decay dentist checking for caries and cavities

symptoms, can help you prevent it from happening altogether. It will also prepare you to take immediate action if you suspect a cavity.

What is Tooth Decay (Cavities / Caries)?

Tooth decay, also known as cavities or caries, is structural damage that occurs when bacteria produce acid which softens and breaks down the tooth.  

Tooth Decay Stages

To understand the stages of caries, you should first have a familiarity with the anatomy of a tooth and the different layers in it. The body, or crown, is what you see when you look in your mouth.  Underneath the gum, embedded in the bone, there are anywhere from one to three roots depending on the tooth.

The outer layer of your tooth is the enamel.  Deeper into the tooth is the dentin, which is a softer material that’s not meant to be exposed to outside forces.  After that is the pulp chamber, which contains nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Extending out of the pulp are nerve canals that run all the way to the tip of each root.

If a cavity is left untreated, it will continue to spread deeper within the tooth, destroying the different layers. Once it passes the enamel it will enter the dentin, then the pulp, and eventually you may develop an abscess (a severe infection).

Signs You Have Cavities (Tooth Decay Symptoms)

Symptoms can reveal themselves in what you see, feel, or even taste. If you spot a discolored tooth when you look in your mouth, it may be decay. Feeling or seeing a hole or having a sensitivity to sweets and cold temperatures are also common with caries.

In the case of a deeper cavity that has reached the pulp or nerve canals, you may notice a bad taste in your mouth.  Severe spontaneous pain, pain to pressure, pain that wakes you up at night and pain to hot are often signs of an infected nerve.   

Tooth Decay Treatments

The type of treatment that you will need depends on the severity of the decay.


In a best-case scenario, our Ottawa dentist can remove the cavity and replace it with a filling. Fillings are a great solution, highly affordable, and can last for many years.

Dental Crown

If the majority of the tooth has been compromised.  It becomes weak and prone to fracture. In this instance, a crown is necessary.  A dental crown is a tooth “shell” that is custom made from a variety of strong materials.

To prepare you for this restoration, your dentist will first remove the decay and build the tooth back up. Once the tooth is healthy, we will reduce around the edges of the tooth and the top, making sure there’s enough clearance for the crown to fit in alignment with your other teeth and opposing arch.

The next step in the crown procedure is to take an impression of the new shape of your tooth.  This impression allows the dental laboratory technician to create your one-of-a-kind crown to protect your tooth.  It may take up to two weeks for the restoration to be completed, so in the meantime, you will wear a temporary crown to protect and preserve the space.

Both the temporary crown and the cement that’s used to adhere it in place are not as strong as what the permanent one will be. For this reason, we recommend that you avoid eating hard or sticky foods. If you do have trouble with your temporary crown, you should notify us right away.  It is very important that your tooth stays protected.

Once your permanent crown is ready, you’ll return for a second visit that will be much quicker than the first. It involves no drilling of your natural teeth. The process is as simple as lifting off your temporary crown, checking to make sure a number of parameters have been met and cementing your new crown in place.

Root Canal

If your symptoms and x-rays show that your cavity has reached the nerve, then our dentist may recommend that you have a root canal performed. This endodontic therapy procedure will remove the nerve tissue from the tooth, eliminating the abscess. This process is necessary because unfortunately there’s no other way to get rid of the infection except for extraction of the tooth.   

After the nerve canals have been cleaned out, they will be sealed to prevent bacteria from re-entering.

While that’s all there is to a root canal, you’ll still need to have the decay removed and the tooth built back up. If there is very little natural tooth structure remaining then we will likely recommend that you have a crown placed to protect your tooth from further damage.


After your evaluation, your dentist may not see any of the previously mentioned procedures as a viable solution.  In cases cracked roots, or the loss of too much tooth structure, we may suggest that you get the tooth extracted.

If you’re interested in replacing a tooth that you lost, a dental implant may be a good option.

Cavity Prevention

To prevent cavities, you should be dedicated to maintaining good oral health.  This means brushing and flossing frequently and going to the dentist regularly.

When you visit Parkdale Dental Centre in Ottawa for your cleaning, we will also take x-rays when required and examine your teeth. If during one of these routine check-ups we see an issue that requires intervention, we can address it before it gets worse.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a dental check-up, give our Ottawa dental team a call today.  We look forward to meeting you!