At some point during your childhood, your parents probably warned you that you only get one set of teeth so you better make them last. Then one day, either as a child or as an adult, your dentist finds a cavity. If you've ever wondered how you get cavities, here's everything you need to know.
What Is a Cavity?
A cavity is another term for tooth decay, and it results from bacteria. Whether you develop a cavity or not depends on several factors including dedication level to oral care, quality of diet and whether fluoride is in the local water supply and the toothpaste you use.
Cavities tend to form in specific areas of the mouth. Four of the most common are as follows:
- Along the gumline
- Between teeth
- In the pits and cracks of the back teeth
- Adjacent to bridgework or dental fillings
When a cavity first develops, chances are there might not be any symptoms. Once the cavity reaches an advanced stage and wears away enough enamel, teeth may be sensitive to food and drinks that are sweet, cold or hot.
Cavities come in three different forms depending on where in the mouth they originate.
- Coronal cavities: They're typically found between teeth or on a tooth's chewing surface.
- Recurrent decay: A tooth's surface in the immediate vicinity of fillings and crowns is prone to further decay since those areas tend to accumulate plaque.
- Root cavities: Exposed roots due to gum recession are susceptible to cavities since there's no enamel to protect the tooth.
Cavity Formation and Progression
Cavity formation is a multi-step process. Bacteria that resides in the mouth requires food to multiply. Foods high in sugar and starch provide the necessary bacterial fuel to produce acids that dissolve tooth enamel. The enamel is the hard, protective coating on the outer layer of teeth.
Carbohydrates are the main driver of this process as they break down into simple sugars. These foods are referred to as fermentable carbohydrates and include sugary mainstays, such as candy, soda and cakes. Each time you consume a fermentable carb, the enamel erosion process continues.
The acids start by dissolving calcium and phosphate crystals in teeth. If the decaying process continues unabated to the point where it penetrates the enamel layer, the damage is permanent. That's when a dentist needs to remove the decay and then fill the cavity.
A tooth's health is seriously threatened when a cavity is left untreated. After eating away the enamel, the decay continues through the dentin and into a tooth's pulp.
Being proactive is the best way to avoid cavities. The American Dental Association offers some tips on how to practice good oral care. Brush twice a day using a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Floss after you brush to dislodge the food particles a brush might not be able to reach. Make good food choices. That means eating nutritious foods and balanced meals. And of course, don't forget regular dental visits.
Since you no longer have to wonder how do you get cavities, receiving a clean bill of health from your dentist should be your new normal. And that's truly something to smile about.