General Dentistry: Can Cavities Be Reversed?

Composite Fillings Phoenix, AZ

Many patients seek out general dentistry services for treatment of tooth decay and cavities. The hope may be that the damage can be reversed and the tooth restored to its original condition. In limited circumstances, this may be possible. More often, the decay can not be reversed, but there are still procedures a dentist can perform to treat cavities.

When can tooth decay be reversed?

Tooth decay occurs because of exposure to acids and sugars that break down and eat away at the teeth. It progresses through four different stages:

  1. Demineralization
  2. Enamel decay
  3. Dentin decay
  4. Pulp decay

It is only possible to reverse tooth decay during the earliest stage of demineralization. During this stage, the interaction between bacteria and sugars produces acids. Exposure to these acids gradually causes the enamel of the teeth to break down. It is only before this breakdown occurs that reversing tooth decay is possible.

What are treatment options for tooth decay?

The only way to reverse tooth decay during the earliest stage is with fluoride. However, if the decay progresses past the demineralization stage, several general dentistry treatments are available to restore the teeth based on the extent of the damage.

Fluoride for reversal of early tooth decay

When acid attacks the teeth, certain minerals are lost. Fluoride helps restore what was lost, thus helping to prevent tooth decay from progressing and sometimes to reverse it. Patients can receive fluoride treatments during annual or biannual general dentistry cleanings and evaluations. During these treatments, dentists apply fluoride directly to the teeth in the form of a foam, gel, or varnish.

Patients can also treat teeth with fluoride at home. Municipal water supplies often have fluoride as an additive to promote better oral health. Therefore, drinking water from the tap may help prevent or reverse tooth decay. Patients can also help stop tooth decay by using oral hygiene products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, that contain fluoride.

Treatments for more advanced decay

Once the decay has progressed enough to start forming a cavity, it is no longer possible to reverse the damage. However, there are several general dentistry treatment options available to restore the tooth to its original function and appearance.

The most common treatment for tooth decay is a filling. This is typically an effective treatment for cavities that are still in the early stages. A filling involves removing the damaged portion of the tooth by drilling and then using an amalgam of metal or composite of plastic resin to fill in the resulting hole.

If the cavity is more advanced, it may not be possible to repair the tooth with a filling. For a cavity too large for a filling, it may be possible to repair it with an inlay or onlay. A crown fits over the tooth to repair a large area of decay. If the decay extends to the innermost layer of the tooth, a root canal may be the only option to repair the damage.


Once a cavity has formed, it is impossible to reverse the damage done to teeth. However, tooth decay can sometimes be reversed in the earliest stages using fluoride, and otherwise dentists can provide restorations for damaged teeth.

Request an appointment here: or call Phoenix Family Dentistry at (602) 547-9007 for an appointment in our Phoenix office.

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