Definition

Cavities refer to tooth decay, which occurs when specific types of bacteria produce acid that destroys the tooth’s enamel and its underlying layer, the dentin.

Signs & Symptoms

Three possible indications that you have a cavity are toothache, tooth sensitivity to sweet, hot or cold foods or drinks, or pain when chewing.

Cause

Many different types of bacteria live in our mouths and build up on the teeth in a sticky film called dental plaque. When we eat and drink, these bacteria create acids, which can dissolve the protective layer beneath the retained plaque. The acid removes minerals from the enamel, which if left untreated can cause a cavity. Decay begins in the main portion of the tooth (the enamel) and as the enamel is broken down the decay can go deeper into the dentin and can eventually reach the nerve (pulp) of the tooth.

Diagnosis

Your dentist can diagnose cavities by examining the tooth surface and by taking an x-ray to see if the cavity has gone from the enamel into the dentin or pulp of the tooth.

Prevention

There are a variety of ways to help prevent cavities which include:

  • Brushing and flossing daily; this will help reduce the amount of dental plaque and bacteria in your mouth.
  • Eating sugary or starchy foods less often during the day to help reduce the amount of tooth-damaging acids in your mouth.
  • Use of fluoride toothpaste, which strengthens teeth, as well as fluoride treatments provided by the dentist or taking fluoride supplements as recommended by the dentist.
  • Using antibacterial mouth rinses to reduce the levels of bacteria that cause cavities.
  • Chewing gum that contains xylitol; this can help decrease bacterial growth.

Treatment

In adults, dentists can apply sealants on molars that have early signs of tooth decay, as long as the decay has not broken through the enamel. Once the enamel has been irreversibly compromised, your dentist will have to fill the tooth. In more serious cases, a root canal may be necessary.

In children, both baby molars and permanent molars can be sealed. Dentists can also apply fluoride varnish on both primary and permanent teeth to protect them from decay.

Complications

If left untreated, a cavity will cause the tooth to decay significantly. Eventually, uncontrolled decay may destroy the tooth completely. There is also the risk of developing an infection related to an abscess when the infection spreads to the root of the tooth.

Related Conditions

Cavities are a result of poor oral hygiene and retained dental plaque on the tooth surface. Specific bacteria in plaque cause decay. Different types of bacteria in plaque, retained near the gum line, cause gum disease to occur, which is a condition that your dentist and periodontist can help treat. Because cavities can penetrate deep into the tooth structure as far as the nerve, you may also experience sensitivity with certain foods and drinks.

Look after your teeth, help prevent cavities

Bacteria that live in your mouth can stick to your teeth and cause cavities. Use one of our fluoride toothpastes to help prevent cavities.

  • Colgate® Maximum Cavity Protection Great Regular Flavour

    You prepare your child for life by making them strong from within and this strength is reflected in her smile. New Colgate Strong Teeth with Amino Power⁺ adds natural calcium* to your family’s teeth, keeping their smiles strong from within. ⁺Amino Power refers to the unique formula containing arginine and an insoluble source of calcium and fluoride *Helps add natural calcium from saliva through Fluoride Action
  • Colgate® Maximum Cavity Protection Fresh Cool Mint Flavour

    You prepare your child for life by making them strong from within and this strength is reflected in her smile. New Colgate Strong Teeth with Amino Power⁺ adds natural calcium* to your family’s teeth, keeping their smiles strong from within. ⁺Amino Power refers to the unique formula containing arginine and an insoluble source of calcium and fluoride *Helps add natural calcium from saliva through Fluoride Action
  • Colgate Maximum Cavity Protection Plus Sugar Acid Neutraliser - Cool Mint

    2 way cavity protection! Give your family the chance to be cavity free!