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Chad D Burgess DDS PC

Gentle Family Dentistry

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So what is a Cavity and how does it form?

For most of us, a cavity means I have to go to the dentist and get a filling. But how many of us really understand what a cavity is or how it forms? Many of us don't want to look dumb when we ask the dentist what a cavity really is. So, here is your answer without having to feel dumb for asking (and really it isn't a dumb question at all.)

In order to understand what a cavity is, it is important to first understand how it forms. All of us have bacteria in our mouth, no matter how good we think we are at brushing. The bacteria need food in order to survive, just like us. They thrive on sugar, sound like anyone's kids? When they get sugar, they produce an acid that starts to dissolve away the outer surface of your tooth, called the enamel. As the bacteria are allowed to stay attached to the tooth and are provided more sugar, this process continues, until a small hole starts to form. For a while, this hole may be difficult to spot, but the bacteria have started to move further into the tooth, to a place where even your brushing will not reach. This is the start of a cavity.


If the bacteria are allowed to remain, they will continue to produce acid that will continue to dissolve the enamel away, and will eventually reach the next portion of your tooth, called the dentin. Once the bacteria reach the dentin, the cavity starts to spread out, even while on the tooth surface you can see, there is still no hole visible. If left alone, the bacteria will eventually dissolve enough of the tooth away that a hole will start to appear, and thus a visible "cavity" can be seen. Eventually, the bacteria will reach the center area of the tooth, known as the pulp, or where the nerve is. This can lead to a serious infection that can be quite painful and costly to resolve.

A cavity does not form overnight. There are various conditions that can lead to getting a cavity. Two elements that you can control are the amount of sugar that is present for the bacteria and the amount of time the bacteria have with that sugar. Frequent snacking provides prolonged sugar exposure to the bacteria and increases your risk for getting a cavity. By brushing your teeth, you can reduce your risk of getting a cavity by reducing the amount of bacteria and sugar present on your teeth.


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