What Exactly Causes Cavities?

Cavities are caused by bacteria and plaque that accumulates in the oral cavity. When you don’t clean your teeth regularly, tooth enamel can become damaged and a cavity can result. Although cavities start out small, they will get larger over time.

If a cavity is left to progress, it can eventually encompass your entire tooth and cause the need for an extraction or root canal. In some cases, untreated tooth decay can even cause a tooth infection and abscess. Let’s take a closer look at the process of how a cavity forms.

Plaque Demineralizes Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel is the hard outer layer of your teeth that protects the softer tissues underneath. Made up of mostly calcium phosphate, tooth enamel requires certain nutrients to stay strong, including calcium, phosphate, and vitamin D [1].

When plaque—which is a combination of bacteria, acids, and food particles—accumulates on the teeth, it can begin to break down tooth enamel. Through this process of demineralization, tooth enamel can become weak and wear away.

Tooth Decay Begins

Once tooth enamel has been damaged, you may eventually see a small “stain” on your tooth, which can be the beginning of a cavity. This could be a small light or dark spot on your tooth enamel. Your dentist will also be able to see this damaged area during your exam.

At this point, the cavity may be able to be reversed with a professional cleaning and potentially fluoride treatment from your dentist [2]. At the very least, your dentist may be able to help you prevent the cavity from progressing.

However, if the cavity isn’t treated, it will continue to damage your tooth. If it gets large or deep enough, the decay can cause an infection in the nerve tissue at the center of your tooth. At this point, the cavity won’t be able to be fixed with a filling. Your dentist will need to remove the tooth or perform a root canal to restore the tooth.

How to Keep Cavities Away

The best way to prevent cavities is to keep your teeth clean and healthy. Daily brushing and flossing can help remove plaque and prevent it from accumulating on the surfaces of your teeth. Eating less sugar can also help encourage a healthy smile, as sugary foods and drinks can encourage plaque growth and cavities [3].

Keeping up with your regular dental visits can also help you keep your teeth clean, remove plaque and tartar, and help catch cavities early. When caught early, cavities may only need minimal treatment rather than a filling, which can save you time and money at the dentist.

Although cavities typically are the result of a combination of poor oral hygiene, bacteria, and plaque—along with a diet high in sugar or refined carbohydrates—you can help keep cavities away by better managing your oral health and visiting your dentist.

Sources:
1. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/08/101193/tooth-enamel-natures-crowning-
achievement
2. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tooth-decay/more-info/tooth-decay-process
3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14522753/

Summary
Article Name
What Exactly Causes Cavities?
Description
If a cavity is left to progress, it can eventually encompass your entire tooth and cause the need for an extraction or root canal. In some cases, untreated tooth decay can cause a tooth infection and abscess. Let’s take a closer look at the process of how a cavity forms.
Author
Orangevale Dental