image showing the stages of a cavity formingIn this blog post, we’re going to answer the common question, how do cavities form in your teeth.

Caries (also called tooth decay or cavities) are the physical deterioration of tooth structure caused by bacteria and acids. Understanding how cavities form can help you reduce your chances of decay and future dental work.

How Do Cavities Form

Most people tend to believe that cavities come from eating a lot of candy or sugar. While this can be true, a sweet tooth isn’t the only way to get cavities. 

Each time you eat, the bacteria inside of your mouth process food particles, they secrete acids and produce a biofilm. As this plaque accumulates throughout your mouth, it holds acids, sugars, and bacteria against your teeth. In turn, those byproducts start to corrode away at your enamel. 

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the entire human body (even stronger than bone). So, it means a lot to say that bacterial plaque and acids can “eat” their way through your tooth structure. 

What is the Main Cause of Cavities

Cavities form when a person experiences frequent plaque exposure (such as snacking throughout the day), poor plaque removal methods, or has a diet that’s high in certain things like processed carbohydrates.  Even if you drink diet soda or sports drinks, those beverages have acidic pH levels that can contribute to tooth decay. Simply because something is labeled “sugar free” does not mean that it is harmless to your teeth.

Most dentists will tell you that your teeth are exposed to about 30 minutes of acid exposure every time you eat something. If you’re eating or snacking every couple of hours, or sipping on a diet soda all afternoon, you’re essentially exposing your teeth to more acid than if you were to eat just 3-4 times per day and drink water between meals.  

When you don’t brush and floss effectively every day, plaque spends more time against your tooth structure and thus creates an environment that is conducive to cavity formation. 

How to Prevent Cavities

There are several methods that our Ottawa Dentist recommends for reducing the risk of cavities. Here are just a few:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Water naturally rinses away acids and reduces bacterial exposure to teeth. Opt for fluoridated tap water over bottled water or other types of beverages. 
  • Floss every single day. Failing to clean between teeth is one of the most significant factors in cavity formation. 
  • Brush thoroughly along the gum lines, where plaque is heaviest. Spend at least two minutes brushing, twice per day. Consider investing in an electric toothbrush for more efficient plaque removal. 
  • Schedule regular checkups at our dental office to screen for demineralized enamel or signs of decay.
  • Supplement with fluoride rinses, gels, or toothpaste to help remineralize areas of weak enamel before a physical cavity forms. Be sure to ask our Ottawa Dentist if additional fluoride is right for you.
  • Get dental sealants placed on the deep grooves and pits of back teeth. 
  • Consider chewing gum with Xylitol in it. Xylitol is a special type of sweetener that at the molecular level will physically inhibit plaque accumulation on your teeth.

Which Teeth Get Cavities First

Any tooth can get a cavity, but some of the first places to decay usually forms are between or on the chewing surfaces of back teeth. Since these areas can be more challenging to clean, plaque and acids tend to stay on them for longer amounts of time. Incorporating a thorough brushing and flossing routine is vital. 

Cavities in Baby Teeth

Some people ask if tooth decay in baby (primary) teeth needs to be fixed. After all, those teeth eventually fall out. Untreated decay can easily spread into adjacent teeth, including developing adult teeth as they erupt into the mouth. 

It’s always best to treat pediatric tooth decay as soon as it’s diagnosed. Early intervention helps prevent dental emergencies, extensive treatment, and unwanted long-term effects.  Simply pulling a baby tooth because it is decayed could cause permanent orofacial changes and issues with tooth eruption patterns, contributing to orthodontic problems and speech issues. The best solution is to maintain your child’s baby teeth as they act as natural placeholders and guides for the adult teeth around them. 

How to Tell if I Have a Cavity

Diagnosing tooth decay at an early stage requires special imaging and instruments. The sooner a cavity is intercepted, the less damage it can do to your smile. 

We will use a special tool to feel the surface of your teeth, checking for any spots where the enamel is starting to demineralize. X-rays are taken about once per year or so (depending on your cavity risk) to screen for decay between teeth or deeper under the chewing surfaces. 

Not all cavities hurt, but if you’re experiencing pain or sweet sensitivity (even when you’re drinking something like flavoured coffee or fruit juice) be sure to let us know. 

By the time a cavity starts to form visible dark spots or holes in your tooth, it’s crucial to have it treated right away. Waiting too long can allow the decay to spread into the nerve of your tooth, requiring root canal treatment

When to See a Dentist

Make sure you’re getting regular dental checkups to stop cavities in their earliest stages. If you’re looking for a new dentist in Ottawa, call Parkdale Dental Centre today!