How Is A Cavity Formed?

If you were to ask someone how cavities are formed, most people would respond with something like “it’s when you don’t brush your teeth”.  However, the science behind how a cavity is formed is really quite fascinating! Understanding how cavities form will also help you avoid them and unnecessary trips to your dentist.  

Scientists have detected over 700 different strains of bacteria that can be found in adult mouths. Many of these are quite harmless and in fact are necessary for digestion and oral health. However, some of these strains of bacteria thrive when you consume foods and drinks that contain sugar. One of these types of strains is known as Streptococcus. These are called opportunistic pathogens, meaning they are relatively harmless on their own but can pose a problem given the optimal set of circumstances. When sugars aren't cleaned off your teeth, bacteria feed on them and produce acid. It’s this acid that will eventually erode the tooth’s enamel. Once enough of the bacteria builds up a substance called plaque is formed. This colorless, sticky biofilm will cover the teeth and make it more difficult to remove the acids. As the plaque dries it forms a hard substance called tartar. The most common sign of tartar is a yellow or brown color to teeth or gums. The only way for sure to detect tartar — and to remove it — is to see your dentist. This is why removing plaque early is so important, once it dries it is much harder to remove.

As the acids accumulate on the outer layer of the tooth they will start to wear away the enamel. As they do, tiny holes will start to form in the tooth. These holes represent the first stage of a cavity. If the cavity is not cared for, the acids and bacteria will begin to travel through the tooth to the next layer. This part of the tooth is called dentin and it is much softer than the enamel of the tooth. This layer is also more sensitive than the enamel and you may begin to feel discomfort. Finally, the bacteria will continue its destruction through the tooth until the inner tooth material, or pulp is affected. At this final stage, the pulp becomes irritated, and the bone that supports the tooth may be involved as well. When the decay reaches this point, you will experience more sensitivity and pain upon biting. This is the most severe stage of a cavity as the tooth will be quite damaged and might require a root canal and crown.

  In conclusion, brushing twice a day, especially after meals, using mouthwash, and flossing will rid your teeth of these harmful bacteria, thus keeping you cavity free! Going to the dentist twice a year will also control tarter as your dental professional will be able to clean it off your teeth, also reducing your chances of cavities.  If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while or you need to schedule a cleaning give our office a call. We will be happy to discuss with you how we can improve your oral health. 


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