What exactly is a cavity?

March 8, 2022

Kid getting a dental examUh-oh, there’s a cavity.

Deep down we all fear the dentist telling us we have a cavity, but what exactly is this thing we are all so afraid of? A cavity is the result of tooth decay, which is the breakdown of the tooth structure. This tooth decay is caused by the dental trifecta: bacteria, sugar and time. You may ask how the dental trifecta leads to this. Well, let’s break each of these contributors down. 

What causes a cavity?

Bacteria: We have lots of bacteria in our mouths! Some of that bacteria are good and help us maintain a healthy mouth. Other bacteria are harmful and spend the day eating sugar. 

Sugar: When we consume food and drinks that have sugar, the harmful bacteria begin their meal. They munch on the sugar and produce acid as a byproduct. 

Time: That acid the bacteria have produced sit on our teeth unless we remove it by means of brushing or flossing. As it sits on the tooth surface, it breaks down the tooth structure and creates tiny holes. When these tiny holes become deep enough they have created a cavity. 

What happens when cavities form

Cavities look chalky and white when they first start. This appearance continues until the tiny holes cause the tooth structure to cave in. Now the cavity appears dark brown or black. Most people do not feel a cavity at this point, but that will change unless a dentist intervenes! The cavity continues to travel deeper towards the center of the tooth. When it reaches the center of the tooth where the nerve and the blood supply are, it infects the tooth and the tooth begins to hurt. It aches and keeps us up at night. Not good! To prevent this, a dentist can remove a cavity before it infects the tooth. A dentist will put the tooth to sleep, use a special toothbrush that removes the cavity and then place a filling in the tooth. 

How to avoid cavities

Fortunately, there are many ways we can prevent cavities from forming! Here are some tips: 

  • Eat a diet low in sugary foods and drinks. Avoid soda, juices, sticky fruit snacks and gummies. 
  • Brush our teeth twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste. The fluoride in our toothpaste makes our teeth strong so they can stand up to the harmful bacteria and the toothbrush removes the sugar from our teeth. 
  • Floss once a day. This removes the sugar in-between the teeth where the toothbrush cannot reach. 
  • If we do eat or drink something with lots of sugar, try to brush after the meal or snack. If this isn’t possible, rinse our mouth out with water. 
  • Visit the dentist two times per year for checkups so if a cavity does develop it can be found and removed before the tooth starts to hurt.