A sinking feeling can arise when you find out you have a cavity. You may wonder if you could have taken preventative action by brushing more effectively or flossing more regularly, but sometimes the issue is more complex and involves multiple factors. So what causes a cavity? Let’s find out . . .
What Causes a Cavity?
Tooth Decay Process
Simply put, cavities are caused by tooth decay, which is a gradual process. Understanding what causes a cavity and how tooth decay develops can help you avoid them both:
- First, a sticky film called plaque forms on your teeth. Plaque is the result of bacteria feeding off of sugars and starches that weren’t cleaned off your teeth well. If the plaque isn’t removed, it will start to harden into tartar, which creates a shield for the plaque and allows the bacteria to continue breeding.
- If plaque is left on your teeth for an extended period, the acids in it will begin to form tiny holes, or cavities, in your enamel. These openings in the enamel allow the harmful bacteria and acid to reach the next layer of your tooth, which is referred to as dentin. This soft layer directly communicates with the nerve of the tooth, which causes tooth sensitivity.
- If the cavity is not treated in a timely manner, it will continue to create a larger hole in the enamel and further damage the dentin. After reaching the dentin layer, the pulp of a tooth (which contains nerves and blood vessels) becomes swollen from the bacteria. This can be extremely painful.
Common Risk Factors
Unfortunately, if you have teeth, you have a chance of getting cavities. In fact, a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 91 percent of adults had cavities and 27 percent had untreated tooth decay. However, there are a few factors that can put your teeth at a higher risk of forming a cavity:
- One obvious risk factor is practicing poor dental hygiene. Aim to brush your teeth quickly after eating or drinking to prevent plaque formation, and spend at least two minutes each time you brush your teeth. In addition, floss at least once a day.
- If a tooth is located near the back of your mouth, it is at a higher risk for tooth decay. Back molars have more grooves and pits than front teeth, which gives bacteria-filled plaque a place to hide. Pay extra attention when brushing and flossing back molars to prevent cavities, and consider having sealants applied.
- Healthy, whole foods benefit your teeth, while processed foods with high sugar content are more likely to form the plaque that can stick to your teeth. In addition, consuming highly acidic fruits and drinks can wear down the enamel of your teeth.
- It is important to consume enough fluoride, a mineral that can prevent cavities and even help reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage. Luckily, fluoride is added to most public water supplies, mouthwashes, and toothpastes. However, purified and bottled water might not contain fluoride.
- Certain medications can put you at a higher risk for tooth decay by causing conditions like dry mouth. A healthy mouth produces plenty of saliva, which helps wash plaque away.
- Old dental fillings and devices can become displaced over time and allow bacteria to form underneath. Your dentist should regularly check your previous dental work to make sure it is still intact.
- Other health conditions like heartburn and eating disorders can put you at a higher risk for developing cavities. When stomach acid enters the mouth, it can damage the enamel of your teeth.
What causes a cavity? The short answer is tooth decay, and it is important to prevent tooth decay by maintaining a healthy diet and excellent oral hygiene. In addition to brushing and flossing, remember to make regular trips to your dentist so that he or she can catch cavities in their early stages, remove hardened plaque, and even place sealants on back molars. At Duff Family Dental, we provide an array of general and cosmetic dental services, including regular cleanings, crowns, implants, and removable dentures. If you live near Springfield, Missouri, make an appointment by calling us at 417-501-8601 or contact us online today!