How Do Cavities Form?

What Can I Do As a Patient to Prevent Cavities?

We get many patients who ask us, “how do cavities form?” and “what can I do to prevent cavities?”

Well, the process in which are formed is an interesting one. While some people are more susceptible to decay than others, but there are some steps that everyone can take to lessen the chance of developing new cavities and protecting any dental work that you currently have.

The 3 Layers of a Tooth

Before discussing how cavities form and cavity prevention, let’s first start out by explaining the science behind it all. Teeth are composed of 3 main layers.

  • Enamel layer: This part of the tooth is the hard outer “shield,” which protects the inner part of your tooth from all of the wear and tear that your teeth go through on a daily basis throughout your lifetime.
  • Dentin layer: This layer lies beneath the enamel layer and is the part of the tooth that has some “feeling” and is much softer than the outer enamel shell.  Some people have very sensitive dentin and other not so much resulting in a range of teeth sensitivity among the population.
  • Pulp: Otherwise known as the “nerve” of the tooth. The pulp is like a chamber filled with nerves and blood supply used in tooth development. This part gives you that cold sensation when biting into a cold ice cream cone for a few seconds.

How Cavities Form

Cavities, or tooth decay, occur from acid attack to the enamel surface of your teeth first. This acid attack can come in many forms. Direct acid attack comes from acid foods and beverages like soda, citrous fruits, and coffee. Indirect acid attack comes from the bacteria in your mouth.

These bacteria feed off of carbohydrates, which are in just about everything other than water, and produce acid which in turn dissolves your tooth’s enamel.

How to Prevent Cavities

Before you start to think about only consuming water, there is hope for cavity prevention!

Your saliva is amazing and works as a protective mechanism against all this acid attack. It acts as a buffer to raise the pH in the mouth back to a stable environment that actually promotes tooth re-mineralization.

However, the key to all of this is timing. It takes roughly 30 minutes for your saliva to neutralize acids in the mouth that occurred from either having a meal, snack, or beverage.

So, the worst thing you can do for your teeth is to have a sip of that soda or a bite of that snack every 30 minutes throughout the day – this causes the pH in your saliva to always be low enough to be dissolving tooth structure and causing decay.

What Dr. Van Hoof Recommends for Cavity Prevention

I recommend staying away from acidic snacks and beverages in general.

However, the safest way to consume these would be during meal times rather than between meals. We all need to eat and from a dental point of view, 3 meals a day is recommended to allow your saliva to promote remineralization of your teeth for much of the day.

How Cavities Form: FAQs

How long do cavities take to form?

Cavities typically develop over several months to even years. The exact timeframe will vary based on individual factors like oral hygiene, diet, and genetics. As mentioned above, neglecting regular dental care, consuming sugary foods, and overall having poor brushing habits can expedite their formation. This is why regular preventive dental care is important – in the long run, it not only saves your tooth’s health, but also your wallet!

How quickly do cavities form?

In some cases, cavities can develop in a matter of months, for example, if there’s a high intake of sugary foods, coupled with inadequate dental care. However, it’s essential to remember that prevention is key to slowing down this process. Make sure to visit your dentist office as often as they recommend (usually once or twice a year).

How do cavities form when you brush your teeth?

If plaque is not adequately removed through brushing and flossing, these bacteria can metabolize sugars from the food you eat. This produces acids which, over time, erode tooth enamel. Regular daily brushing helps remove plaque, and prevent cavity formation over time.

How do cavities form below gum line?

Cavities below the gum line, known as subgingival cavities, usually result from poor oral hygiene. The bacteria that forms then produces acids which erode enamel and can extend beneath the gum line. Regular dental check-ups, deep cleanings, and proper oral care at Van Hoof Dental can help prevent and address subgingival cavities.

How Do Cavities Form: In Summary

In conclusion, you should remember that:

  • Cavities are caused by acid attack to the enamel surface of your teeth eventually eroding into the dentin layer and forming a cavity
  • You cannot feel cavities until they are very deep
  • It takes 30 minutes for your saliva to neutralize the acids in your mouth following food or beverage to promote remineralization of your teeth
  • Snacking or sipping a beverage throughout the day can cause a high rate of cavities
  • Stick to 3 meals a day if possible

Our Fox Valley and Appleton dentists and other staff are looking forward to meeting you! More about Van Hoof Dental’s preventative care, fillings, surgeries, and more on our dental services page.

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