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Home > Dental Conditions > Cavities  > Cavities Symptoms & Causes > What Are Dental Cavities
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What Are Dental Cavities?

Bacteria in your mouth can cause dental cavities!

Dental cavities, also known as dental caries, are simply holes in teeth caused by bacteria -- the microscopic germs that live in the mouth. Think of your mouth as a crowded city, over packed with millions of people -- a busy, unclean place where germs abound.

Dental bacteria live all around your teeth, gums, lips and tongue. Are the bacteria harmful? Not necessarily. Oral bacteria can live nicely in very crowded conditions without causing harm -- except when they are well-fed and remain on the teeth and below the gums for over 24 hours.

If the city becomes so crowded that people live everywhere -- in stores, parking lots, roof tops and even garbage dumps -- there are serious problems like dirty conditions, poor health and car accidents.

Certain types of bacteria attach themselves to the enamel surfaces of your teeth. If they are allowed to live on the teeth undisturbed, they quickly multiply and form colonies and cause cavities. If food remains on the teeth, especially sticky sugars, the colonies form bacterial plaque.

Plaque is the yellow film that forms around the teeth and under the gums. After a few weeks or months, plaque combines with natural minerals in the mouth, such as calcium, to form tartar (calculus). The tartar acts as a shelter for bacteria to grow, forming more plaque.

Can tooth decay be prevented?

Fortunately, yes! There are three elements in tooth decay: The first is the tooth; the second is the bacteria; and the third factor is the food stuff left behind on the teeth. Without the food, bacteria cannot multiply in large numbers. Feed bacteria by leaving food around the teeth after meals and it will form colonies of bacterial plaque. That's when cavities develop.

What about sugar?

Sugar plays an important role in tooth decay. Simple sugars, such as those found in candy, provide the best form of energy for hungry bacteria. The bacteria multiply faster and the plaque grows in, around and between the teeth, covering the tiny crevices, pits and grooves where decay usually begins. Some of the bacteria turn the sugar into a sticky film, which it uses to stay on a tooth's surface. This makes it harder for your saliva to wash away the bacteria.

How does plaque cause a cavity?

The bacteria in plaque produce acid which eats away at the enamel, the hard covering on your teeth. It may be a slow process, taking months or even years before a toothache develops. Regular dental exams every six months gives the dentist an opportunity to find cavities before they cause significant harm to the teeth. More importantly, the dentist will clean your teeth; apply decay fighting fluoride; and give you valuable tips to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Can cavities be prevented?

Absolutely! Careful tooth brushing, frequent use of dental floss, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and visit the dentist regularly so the dentist can keep you in good dental health.

Why does it take so long to hurt?

The nerve fibers in teeth are not found on the hard enamel surfaces. While the acid is attacking the enamel, you can't feel a thing. Once the acid has begun to create a cavity and attacks the softer dentin under the enamel, the nerve fibers send quiet pain messages telling you something is wrong. Even then, the small cavity may be easily filled by the dentist, returning the tooth to good health. If you wait until there is a lot of pain, the cavity may be too deep to fix with a simple dental filling. That's why it's important to have regular, preventive dental check-ups. Don't wait until it hurts!

If you're interested in cavity treatment, call us at 1-866-970-0441. We'll put you in touch with a great dentist today!

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