Cavities: The Detailed Guide

Cavities: The Detailed Guide

Almost everyone has heard of dental cavities. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 90% of adults over the age of 20 have had at least one cavity. Cavities are one of the most common dental problems that people suffer from, and it’s important that we understand what they are in order to be able to prevent them or treat them when they happen. In this blog post, we’re going to talk about cavities: what they are, how they form, different types of cavities, and their symptoms so you can recognize one if it happens. We will also talk about how to prevent cavities.

What is a cavity?

Cavities are holes that form in the teeth due to tooth decay. Tooth decay is a result of plaque, a sticky film that forms on your teeth, mixing with bacteria and saliva. When bacteria feed on sugars from foods and beverages, this causes the release of acids which then dissolve the enamel on your teeth. Over time, the erosion caused by these acids can lead to cavities.

Cavities can form in any part of your teeth, and there are different types of cavities that are defined based on where they form. These include:

types of cavities
  • Pit and Fissure Cavities: these are the most common cavities that occur on the chewing surfaces of molars. This is because these areas are difficult to clean properly, so plaque and bacteria tend to build up there.
  • Root Cavities: these cavities form on the root of your tooth, especially in cases where the gums have receded. They are caused by plaque and bacteria that accumulates along the gum line and/or on the root of your tooth.
  • Smooth Surface Cavities: these cavities are less common and they form on the smooth surfaces of your teeth, such as the sides. In many cases, smooth surface cavities can form in between the teeth. These are sometimes called interproximal cavities.

How a Cavity Forms:

When cavities first form, they’re called white-spot lesions because there’s only a small area of decay. If these are left untreated for too long, however, it can develop into larger cavities which may require treatment with fillings or root canal therapy.

There are five stages of cavity formation:

stages of a cavity forming
  1. Demineralization: This is the very first stage of cavity formation and it’s when your dentist can first start to see signs of decay. In this stage, the tooth appears fine, but there is a small area where the enamel has started to demineralize. As a result, this can cause white spots to form on the teeth. White-spot lesions can be reversed if caught early or they can continue to progress into a cavity.
  2. Enamel Decay: This is the next stage where the decay starts to spread through the enamel layer of the teeth. The area of decay will get larger so that there is an actual hole in the tooth. Once a cavity has reached this stage, it cannot be reversed and must be treated with a dental filling.
  3. Dentin Decay: This is the stage where the cavity has reached the underlying dentin layer. The decay will continue to spread and can cause pain, sensitivity, and inflammation in the tooth. Once the cavity has reached the dentin layer, the rate of decay will increase.
  4. Pulp Cavity: This is the final stage of cavity formation and it’s when the decay has reached the pulp layer of the tooth. The pulp layer contains nerves and blood vessels, so decay often leads to infection and even death of the nerve. If a cavity reaches this stage, it will require root canal therapy.
  5. Abscess: If the infection spreads to the tooth roots, it can cause an abscess to form at the base of the tooth roots. This is when pus forms in and around your teeth, which causes pain and swelling in your cheeks or face near your affected tooth. At this point, the affected tooth will require a root canal or a possible extraction.

How long does it take a cavity to form?

Cavities can form in a matter of days, weeks or months, but they usually take several years to develop fully. The amount of time it takes for a cavity to form depends on how often you eat sugary foods and drinks, how well you take care of your teeth, and on the type of cavity that forms. It is important to note that cavities in the enamel layer take longer to grow since the enamel is the hardest layer of the tooth. However, once a cavity has reached the dentin or even pulp layers, the rate of decay increases significantly.

Preventing Cavities

So, what can you do to prevent cavities? The best way to prevent them is by maintaining a good oral hygiene routine – brushing twice a day and flossing every night. You should also avoid or limit sugary foods and drinks, visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings, and use a fluoride toothpaste since fluoride helps keep your enamel strong and resistant to decay.

In Conclusion

Cavities are a common dental problem that can form on the teeth in a number of ways. In most cases, cavities require treatment with fillings or root canal therapy, depending on their size and location. However, if they’re caught early enough, white-spot lesions can be reversed. The best way to prevent cavities is by maintaining good oral hygiene habits and avoiding sugary foods and drinks. If you have any questions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help! 


Fredrick Farahi, DDS, PC - SmileMclean Dentistry

Fredrick Farahi, DDS, PC

Dr. Fredrick Farahi, a native of Northern Virginia, received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1990. Since then, Dr. Farahi’s continuing education has ventured him toward more challenging areas of Dentistry, including Cosmetic Dentistry, Reconstructive Dentistry, and Implant Dentistry. Dr. Farahi is passionate about keeping up with the latest advances in dentistry.