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 (20% of 5-11 year olds have at least one untreated decayed tooth, particularly in those children/adolescents from lower socioeconomic households).


What causes cavities? 

Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change a wide variety of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars), to acids which with plaque (a film of sticky bacteria that grows on the tooth) cause the damage to the tooth enamel which 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 by not brushing twice daily, not flossing between teeth after the age of 2 years, poor mouth hygiene, little or no fluoride in toothpaste or the water and not seeing a dentist (firstly at 1 year of age) then regularly every 6 months. 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 associated with red, swollen inflamed gums.

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: 2/19/2018 2:52:21 PM

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