Exploring the Causes of Cavities

November 15, 2023

Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are permanently damaged areas in the hard surface of your teeth that develop into tiny openings or holes. A cavity can be caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks, and not cleaning your teeth well.

The following are common types of cavities and where they occur:

  • Smooth surface: occur on the smooth sides of your teeth.
  • Root cavities: develop on the surface over the roots.
  • Pit and fissure: occur on the chewing surface of your teeth.

A cavity can start on any tooth surface and usually does not hurt unless it grows very large and affects nerves or cause a tooth fracture.

a woman have a toothache

What Causes Cavities?

Plaque Buildup: Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that accumulates on your teeth.

The bacteria in the plaque feed on sugars from the foods we eat and produce acids that attack the enamel, causing demineralization. Prolonged exposure to the acids weakens the enamel, causing it to break down.

Poor Oral Hygiene: Not brushing or flossing regularly, and not using mouthwash or brushing your tongue will leave your teeth vulnerable to decay. Brushing your teeth for less than two minutes each time can also lead to cavities.

Sugary and Acidic Foods and Drinks: Consuming lots of sugary foods and drinks or a diet high in starches fills your mouth with sugars that bacteria can feed off. Highly acidic foods also contribute to tooth decay by weakening the enamel. They can also stain the teeth and cause discoloration.

Dry Mouth: Excessive dryness of the mouth decreases the presence of the preventative enzyme lysozyme in your saliva, limiting its ability to fight bacteria and leading to tooth decay.

Genetics: Teeth with inherently deep crevices are harder to clean well, which allows plaque more room to grow. For teeth that naturally have weak enamel, it is even easier to damage the outer layer.

Lack of Professional Dental Care: Avoiding the dentist can prevent catching your tooth decay early on, or noticing problem behaviors that can lead to cavities.

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends seeing the dentist for a check-up and cleaning at least twice a year. Your Tacoma dentist may recommend you visit more often depending on your specific situation and risk of disease.

Some conditions: diabetes, heart disease, or pregnancy may require more frequent cleanings to keep you and your mouth healthy.

Brushing Teeth to avoid cavities

How to prevent a cavity?

Cavities can be prevented by following good oral hygiene practices and making healthy lifestyle choices. Here are some tips to help prevent cavities:

1. Brush Twice a Day: Brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is essential to preventing cavities. Brushing your teeth for about 2 to 3 minutes cleans your teeth by removing food debris and bacteria, called plaque.

2. Floss Daily: Flossing daily helps remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth and along the gum line, where your toothbrush cannot reach.

3. Use Mouthwash: Using mouthwash can help kill bacteria in your mouth and freshen your breath. Look for a mouthwash that contains fluoride.

4. Limit Sugary Snacks and Drinks: Sugar is the greatest catalyst to bacteria growth and cavities. It is important to limit your sugar intake through food and drink. Sweets, candies, and gum are huge culprits for causing cavities. It is best to avoid these foods as much as possible.

5. Drink Water with Fluoride: Drinking water with fluoride is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to help prevent cavities. Water is unlike any other drink, as it helps to neutralize the acids in your mouth and prevent tooth decay.

6. Know your Cavity Risk Level: Drinking water with fluoride is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do. Water is unlike any other drink, as it helps to neutralize the acids in your mouth and prevent tooth decay.

7. Visit the Dentist Regularly: Regular dental checkups and cleanings can help prevent cavities by getting rid of the buildup on your teeth that would otherwise create decay. It’s essential to visit the dentist twice a year for a bi-annual cleaning and examination.

Root Canal - Habits for In-Between Hygiene Appointments: Maintaining Oral Health for All Ages


In conclusion, understanding the causes of cavities is crucial for maintaining good oral health. From the erosion of tooth enamel to the presence of bacteria, various factors contribute to the formation of cavities.

By practicing good oral hygiene, including regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups, individuals can take proactive steps to prevent cavities and preserve their dental health for the long term.