What causes cavities, how do they form?

As you are probably aware, there are only a handful of people around you that have never had a cavity. From a young age, we have been told to brush and floss twice daily to keep our teeth nice and shiny. “If you brush you won’t get cavities”. Yet the large majority of us DO develop tooth decay. Did we eat too much candy? What are the real causes behind how these pesky spots on our teeth form, and more importantly how can we avoid them?

A cavity is formed partly from plaque- a film of bacteria that coats the teeth and causes disease and decay. These bacteria can create an acid if left untreated (unremoved) and this acid is what eats away at your teeth to form a small hole – a cavity. But this is not the worst thing that can happen to you! If this acid eats past the hard outer part of your tooth (your enamel) it can get in to the pulp (the inner soft part of the tooth) and cause a root infection, which then results in you needing a root canal!

Now that you know that cavities occur mostly from tooth decay, there are some other factors that can increase the risk. The highest risk factor is eating foods that cling to your teeth and then forgetting to brush! (So the childhood mantra is actually true you say?? ~YES!) The problem with foods like this is that our saliva has a hard time washing them away, but they are hubs for bacteria that can then lead to plaque and enamel-destroying acids in our mouth. Secondly, our mouth needs fluoride to be healthy; if we do not get enough, this is another way that cavities form. This fact may surprise you but due to its benefits, fluoride has now been added to most public water supplies. Therefore if you are a bottled water type of person, you could be missing out on this helpful chemical! Don’t worry, though; most toothpastes have fluoride — but if you are concerned, look for one with a higher percentage.

As mentioned, saliva is a tool that actually helps to fight against cavities. Another problem that many dentists have found affects the risk of cavities is dry mouth. Basically this issue is caused from… you guessed it: a lack of saliva. What you may not know, however, is that this condition can occur in anyone not just people with a history of this disorder. Stress is actually a huge factor, and can cause dry mouth to continue. It also occurs when you are dehydrated. Stay hydrated to keep healthy levels of beneficial saliva in your mouth. If you have this problem and it seems to persist, then it is best to mention it to your dentist and/ or doctor.

The last and most important thing you can do for the prevention of cavities is to see your dentist regularly, for cleanings and checkups. If plaque is already forming in your mouth they have the ability to remove and treat it safely to prevent further issues. They can also treat cavities before they affect the root of your tooth!

Keep your smile beautiful by practicing healthy dental habits and scheduling regular dental visits, and you will keep those annoying cavities at bay!