Hearing the words “you have a cavity” might come as a
surprise. This is especially true if you think you have a good oral hygiene
routine. But even if your dentist delivers bad news, there are ways to treat a
cavity and prevent new ones from forming.
A cavity, also called tooth decay, is a hole that forms in a
tooth. Cavities start small and gradually become bigger when left untreated.
Since many cavities don’t cause pain in the beginning, some people don’t
realize a problem exists. Regular dental appointments can detect tooth decay
The symptoms of a cavity depend on the severity of the
decay. They include:
hole in the teeth
or white staining on teeth
According to the Mayo Clinic, cavities and tooth decay are some
of the most common health problems in the world. Anyone with teeth can develop cavities,
including infants. To protect your oral health and the oral health of your
family, you should learn the causes and risk factors for cavities.
Causes of Tooth Cavities
Tooth cavities are caused by plaque, a sticky substance that
binds to teeth. Plaque is a combination of bacteria, saliva, acid, and food
particles. Everyone has bacteria in their mouth. After eating or drinking foods
with sugar, bacteria in your mouth turn sugar into acid. Plaque starts forming
on teeth soon after eating or drinking anything sugary. This is why regular
brushing is important.
Plaque sticks to teeth, and the acid in plaque can slowly
erode tooth enamel. Enamel is a hard, protective coating on teeth that protects
against tooth decay. As tooth enamel weakens, the risk for decay
Everyone is at risk for cavities, but some people have a
higher risk. Risk factors include:
many sugary or acidic foods and drinks
- a poor
oral hygiene routine (failing to brush or floss daily)
getting enough fluoride
disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
reflux disease, which can result in stomach acid wearing down tooth enamel
Cavities develop more often in the back teeth, according to
the Mayo Clinic. These teeth have grooves and
openings that can trap food particles. Also, these teeth are sometimes harder
to reach when brushing and flossing.
Treatment Options for Tooth Cavities
Tell your doctor about uncomfortable symptoms like tooth
sensitivity or pain. Your dentist can identify tooth decay after an oral exam.
However, some cavities aren’t visible from an oral exam. So, your dentist may
use a dental X-ray to look for decay.
There are several ways to treat a cavity. Treatment options
depend on severity:
- Tooth fillings: A dentist uses a
drill and removes decayed material from a tooth. Your dentist fills the
tooth with a substance, such as silver, gold, or composite resin.
- Crowns: For larger decays, a
dentist may place a custom fit cap over your tooth to replace its natural
crown. Decayed tooth material is removed prior to beginning this
- Root canal: When tooth decay
causes the death of nerves, dentists perform a root canal to save the
tooth. They remove the nerve and blood vessel tissues, and any decayed
areas of the tooth. Dentists also check for infections, and apply
medication to the roots as needed. They fill the tooth, and sometimes
they’ll place a crown on the tooth.
If your dentist detects a tooth cavity in its early stage, a
fluoride treatment may restore your tooth enamel and prevent further decay.
Complications from Tooth Cavities
If left untreated, a tooth cavity can cause a variety of
- ongoing tooth pain
- a tooth abscess, which can become infected and
trigger life-threatening complications, like an infection that enters the
- development of pus around the infected tooth
- increased risk for breaking or chipping a tooth
- difficulty chewing food
If you put off seeing a dentist, you may cause irreparable damage
to your tooth. At this point, the only way to fix the cavity is for your
dentist to remove the tooth and replace it with an implant or bridge.
Reduce Your Risk
Tooth cavities are a common dental problem, but you can
reduce your risk. Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and
floss once daily, as recommended by the American Dental Association. Eat fewer sugary
and acidic foods, like sweets, candy, juice, soda, and refined carbohydrates. Limiting
snacking between meals is also helpful. Healthy foods like fiber-rich fruits
and vegetables, calcium-rich foods, xylitol sugarless chewing gum, unsweetened
black or green tea, and water with fluoride can help fight tooth decay. Also,
don’t forget to visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular teeth
cleanings for prevention and treatment.