When you get a filling in a tooth, you might think it's safe from future cavities. But many dental patients are surprised to find that their tooth with a filling eventually develops a second cavity. This problem, known as recurrent decay, is relatively common, and it can be fixed if caught early. Read on to learn more about recurrent decay, what it means, and what you can expect if your existing filling needs replacing. 

Understanding How Fillings can Lead to Cavities

Cavities form when bacteria in your mouth break through the protective outer layers of your tooth. The bacteria begin burrowing through the softer inner tissues and hollowing the tooth out until they reach its central nerve. Dentists repair this damage by removing infected tissue and blocking it with a filling. But if that filling comes loose or isn't fitted properly, bacteria can still sneak in. There, they're shielded from standard brushing and flossing, allowing them to grow unimpeded.

Finding Recurrent Decay

A cavity growing beneath a filling may be out of sight, but an experienced dentist can still usually spot it. During a regular dental exam, your dentist checks any fillings or other dental work you've received. This includes probing at the edges of fillings to make sure they're still sealed to the tooth. If your dentist notices a problem, they may order dental x-rays to peek inside your tooth. Even without signs of decay, a loose filling may need to be replaced.

Correcting the Cavity

If x-rays turn up evidence of a new cavity, your dentist will remove the old filling to get a closer look and decide on the best course of action. If, for example, the cavity is still small, repairing it may be a simple process. After fixing the cavity, a new filling will cap the tooth. But if the decay has spread down into the root, a root canal may be necessary to save it.

Considering a Dental Crown

Whether or not you require a root canal to deal with the cavity, your dentist may recommend a dental crown to replace the old filling. Multiple cases of decay often eat away too much of the existing tooth to be fully covered by a filling. Dental crowns cover the entire remaining tooth, blending in with your natural teeth and protecting it from further decay or structural damage. If you suspect your filling has a cavity beneath it, contact your local dentist and schedule an appointment quickly to avoid more advanced dental treatment.

Contact your dentist to learn more.