A cavity is a hole in tooth enamel that is caused by tooth decay.

Tooth decay begins with oral bacteria. Most oral bacteria are harmless, but certain types join with food particles to create plaque, a constantly forming biofilm that sticks to the surface of tooth enamel. Plaque creates acid that erodes enamel and causes weak spots. Over time, these weak spots will become bigger and deeper until a hole, or cavity, forms.

Treating Tooth Decay and Cavities

Once bacteria and acids have created a deep enough cavity, only a dentist can repair it by removing the decayed area of the tooth and restoring the tooth’s structure with a filling or a crown.

Without treatment, a cavity will continue to grow until it erodes the enamel and spreads into the interior of the tooth. When the tooth root is exposed by a cavity, infection can occur, which may need to be treated with a root canal or an extraction.

Preventing Cavities

While there are many options for treating cavities, prevention is always best. Working together with your dental team, you can help prevent cavities with healthy dental habits and proactive treatments:

  • Regular checkups can catch and treat early tooth decay before a cavity forms.
  • Professional cleanings remove tartar and plaque you might have missed.
  • Brush at least twice a day, for at least two minutes each time, to clean plaque from tooth surfaces.
  • Floss at least once each day to remove plaque between the teeth and along the gum line.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste, a proven way to strengthen and remineralize enamel.
  • Consider professional fluoride treatments if you have a higher risk of tooth decay.
  • Ask your dentist about sealants to protect molars from decay.
  • Eat at tooth-healthy diet rich in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D and low in sugars and acids.
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