What Causes Cavities? 

It’s estimated that approximately 91% of Americans over 20 years of age have had cavities at some point. Nearly 30% of Americans over 20 have untreated cavities. How does this happen given the fact that with preventive care most cavities can be avoided? There are many factors that causes cavities to form. So how does this cavity get started?

Cavity in a premolar tooth.

Top 9 causes of cavities

The outer layer of a tooth is covered in enamel, even though this is the strongest substance in the human body, it can be eroded by acid. When we eat sugary foods, the cavity-causing bacteria in our mouths feed on the sugar as well. As a result, they produce acid, which over time wears away the enamel and creates a cavity. This is why it is important to remove as much plaque as possible each day to help prevent cavities. Many factors increase the risk of developing cavities. These include but are not limited to: 

  • A high-sugar diet
  • Poor home care
  • Xerostomia (dry mouth)
  • Low exposure to fluoride
  • Frequent snacking
  • GERD
  • History of cavities
  • Eating disorders
  • Lack of dental care

A cavity often begins with a hyper-white and chalky or brown appearance, this is called demineralization. If you catch it at this stage, before a true cavity is formed, the enamel can be remineralized with increased fluoride and good homecare. Once the cavity has progressed through the enamel and into the softer layer of the tooth (Dentin) it cannot be reversed and will begin to progress more quickly. It is imperative to stop the cavity at this point if it is not filled, the decay will eventually reach the pulp chamber of the tooth. This is where the nerve and blood vessels of the tooth lie. If the decay infects the nerve a root canal is required to save the tooth. After a root canal, a crown is indicated to provide strength to the tooth and prevent it from fracturing. 

Chances are you’ve had a cavity or two filled in your life, but by identifying your risk factors with your dentist and hygienist we can formulate a plan to prevent future cavities. If you start to see or feel any signs of a cavity please call us! The sooner we can treat a cavity the better the prognosis. We can help you with what steps can be taken to prevent new cavities from developing. 

Tacoma dental care at Soundview Dental Arts


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National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

American Dental Association