Also known as: tooth decay, caries.
What are cavities?
A cavity, caries, or tooth decay, is the damage that occurs to tooth enamel over time that is one of the most common and preventable chronic conditions seen in children. About 20 percent of 5-11 year olds have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Cavities are particularly prevalent in children and adolescents from lower socioeconomic households.
What causes cavities?
Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change a wide variety of foods containing sugars to acids which combine with plaque (a film of sticky bacteria that grows on the tooth) and cause the damage to the tooth enamel. This leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Risk factors for tooth decay include:
- a large number of bacteria on teeth
- diets high in sugars
- poor dental hygiene (not brushing twice daily)
- not flossing between teeth (beginning at 2 years of age)
- poor mouth hygiene
- little or no fluoride in toothpaste or the water
- not seeing a dentist regularly (every 6 months after 1 year of age).
Sealing the irregularities in the back teeth may prevent decay and cavity formation.
What are the signs/symptoms of cavities?
Early signs include a dull white band (or white spots) on the tooth close to the gum line. Later a tooth may have brown spots/area or become black. As the cavity becomes deeper red, swollen and inflamed gums are also present.
Most cavities don’t cause symptoms and are detected during a regular dental visit. Tooth sensitivity to cold foods or pain and discomfort can occur if a cavity has been present for a long time and has not been treated. Severe decay may cause speech and jaw problems.
What are cavity care options?
Removing the decayed area and filling the cavity is the primary treatment of tooth decay.
Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP
This page was last updated on: June 25, 2021 11:16 AM
Weekly Support Programs
Nicklaus Children's Dental Mobile Unit
The 40-foot mobile unit is Nicklaus Children’s Hospital’s latest endeavor to assist families in need as part of its vision “to be where the children are” in South Florida and beyond. In addition to screenings and exams, services can include varnish treatments, dental sealants, oral and health hygiene education as well as referrals for follow-up oral treatment, to underserved families of children who do not have dental insurance.
Learn more about
Nursing Bottle Caries
The tooth decay that occurs in infants and very young children is often referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay”.
When bacteria enters a tooth causing a localized infection in or around the tooth, or if the infection spreads from the tooth to cause deep infections in the neck, it’s known as a dentoalveolar infection.
Dental filling or restoration is a treatment to restore function, integrity and shape of the tooth structure, preventing further decay and destruction of the tooth.