What Are Cavities? Why They Form and What to Do About Them


You may have had one or a few in your lifetime or you may know of others who have had one or a few … what are they? Cavities, those holes in your teeth that need to be repaired, or else!

Cavities to put it simply are openings through the protective structure of the teeth, usually enamel but at times other exposed surfaces of the tooth can form cavities as well, such as cementum or dentin. Enamel is one of the hardest substitutes in our body, even stronger than our bones, so it takes a lot to break down the enamel tooth structure. Cementum and dentin on the other hard are softer and when exposed to the oral cavity can form soft areas or cavities at a much faster rate. Enamel, cementum and dentin all have a similar purpose; to protect the pulp of the tooth, that area where the nerve and the rich blood vessels that feed the tooth live.

The process of cavity formation can take some time. Initially the rise in the acid level causes a demineralization of the external portion of th tooth structure, this process can either continue with further degradation of the protective tooth structures or can be halted / reversed through application of fluoride and the buffering / remineralizaiton effect of saliva .

Increased acidity of the mouth occurs through consumption of carbohydrates which when left on or around the teeth are consumed by oral bacteria which secret their by-products (bacterial waste). The bacterial by-products and waste raise the acidity level and thus increase the chance of cavities forming on the teeth. This is why good oral home care is important to rid the teeth of both food particles which have the potential to break down and so the bacteria has nothing left to 'consume' to produce waste. Oral bacteria can not live in an oral environment which is not hospitable.

Prevention of oral decay means brushing three times a day for a minimum of two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing once a day. If a person is at high risk for cavities; for example those who form cavities on a six month to yearly basis, a higher concentration of fluoride toothpaste or an added daily fluoride rinse is imperative to assist in prevention of cavities. As well, many medications which people take have the capacity to cause dry mouth, this raises their chance of developing cavities that homecare and extra fluoride applications are vital. Sugar-free gum between meals can help with removal of food particles from teeth and can raise levels of saliva which are also vital for remineralization of the tooth structure and buffering of the oral cavity.

If you have been diagnosed with a cavity it is important you attend to it. When a cavity initially forms in enamel it can take some time for it to fully penetrate through into the underlying dentin, but once it hits dentin it spreads very quickly due to the structure of the dentin itself. When you are at this point the cavity is irreversible and can spread directly into the pulp of the tooth causing infection, inflammation and discomfort. When the pulp becomes inflated and infected many times it will require a root canal (removal of the pulp and nerve of the tooth). Catching a cavity in the early stages is the key and dependent where the cavity is located on the tooth a dental x-ray is vital for diagnosis as a dentist can not see directly between the teeth where cavities commonly occur.

To treat a cavity, the dentist will drill away the soft area of ​​the tooth and replace it with a filling, The filling will consume the space where the cavity was and protect the inner portions of the tooth just as the enamel one did prior to the cavity starting. It is vital to keep the area around the filling as clean as possible to prevent new cavities from forming around the filling and adjunct tooth structure as this area is naturally weaker and can be sentenced to recur deceay.

Keep your teeth cavity-free by performing optimal oral care for your mouth!