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Cavities – What You Need to Know

Cavities are not as mysterious as they seem. They do not appear from out of nowhere and they are controllable!


The most common thing we hear from patients that are in pain from tooth decay is “I have great oral hygiene! Why am I getting cavities!?” The answer, of course, is that oral hygiene and care are only part of the prevention process for cavities.  Cavities can form because of the food you eat, your body’s natural levels of acidity, grinding and wear, along with not brushing or flossing.  

The goal of this article is to take you through the basics of cavities,  or caries, as dentists like to call them. By reading this article you’ll know what a cavity is, how they form, and what you can do about them.   We don’t mean to try and make you an expert, as that would take a lot more time than anyone has.  But, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to ask the right questions of yourself and to your dentist .

 keeHow What is a cavity?

Simply put, a cavity is a hole in your tooth.  This hole gets created when healthy enamel and tooth structure gets eaten away by acid.  Acid erosion happens when the natural fluids occuring in your mouth break down foods or other materials to become tooth destroying vs tooth protecting.  First the enamel of your teeth get eroded away, and next the underlying structure becomes damaged.

Why Do Cavities Cause Pain? 

Cavities grow over time.  A cavity can first be spotted as it creates an indention in the enamel layer of your tooth.  This is what your dentist is feeling for when they examine and poke at your teeth with a probe.  Over time the erosion continues to eat through the dentin and toward the pulp cavity.  This pulp cavity is where the nerves of your tooth are located.  As the cavity progresses through the dentin and toward these nerves, your teeth will become more sensitive and painful.  

How Do Cavities Form?

There are several complex factors that cavities form inside of the general statement about erosion described above.   The three main factors are are below.  

  • Bacteria present in your mouth
  • The food you eat (that the bacteria feed on as well) 
  • Your teeth and saliva. 

These three factors work together to either protect your teeth and your health or work against it.  You don’t get cavities from eating sugary foods alone!

Let’s dive into each of these areas to learn more about how they affect your health. 

Bacteria Present In Your Mouth

Your teeth naturally have grooves, indentations, and small pockets where bacteria stick to the teeth and form plaque. Plaque forms around the entire tooth structure but tends to accumulate around the gum line. The bacteria are living beings and constantly going through a cycle of growing around your teeth and gums, eroding your enamel, and getting removed through brushing/flossing/regular cleanings.  There are many types of bacteria present in your mouth but the types mainly responsible for plaque build-up include Streptococcus sanguis and Streptococcus mutans.   

The Food You Ingest

The bacteria in your mouth are living things.  As such, they need to consume energy to grow and reproduce.  Bacteria in your mouth feed on pockets of food left in the nooks and crannies of your teeth after you’ve eaten.  The best types of foods that the bacteria like to consume are those that are easy to digest.  As simple organisms, the bacteria lack the complex digestive system needed to consume structurally complex foods.  Bacteria’s favorite foods include those that are processed and easily dissolved in your mouth through saliva and those that are filled with sugars.  Candy bars, crackers, chips, and breads are favorite foods for bacteria that help them grow rapidly.  Sugary drinks such as soft drinks, colas, or alcohol also contain the necessary amount of sugar needed for bacterial replication. 

After the bacteria consume the sugars left in pockets of your teeth, that digested food needs somewhere to go.  The excretions/eliminations from the bacteria’s digestive system are highly acidic.  This acid works to destory/erode the enamel, dentin, and other tooth structure creating cavities.  

Your Teeth & Mouth

As discussed earlier, your teeth are unique to you.  Each person’s structure is different.  Teeth enamel may be thinner or thicker by each individual tooth (improving or diminishing their resistance to cavities).  The teeth may overlap or have spaces between them which each provide unique opportunities for plaque to form between them and the gum line.  

Your saliva plays a role in your health as well.  The saliva in your mouth helps to clean your teeth and wash the sugars you eat into your stomach for digestion.  The better saliva production you have, the easier it is for this process to take place and protect your teeth.  The pH balance of your saliva matters as well. According to an article in the Hindawi journal, typical healthy saliva has a pH of between 6.7 and 7.4 meaning it tends to be neutral.  If you saliva pH is out of balance and either too Alkaline or acidic, other issues such as bad breath, or cavity production can occur.  Acidic saliva causes more cavities. 



Do Candy Bars Cause Cavities? 

Now that we know about the three factors that create the perfect environment for tooth decay, let’s look at an example.  Imagine a crunchy caramel candy bar that you or your children just received after trick-or-treating on Halloween.  The sweet chocolate and caramel filling is loaded with simple sugars which are the perfect snack for bacteria to grow.  The crunchy base layer gets stuck in between your teeth when you chew and also gets broken down easily by bacteria to turn into acid.  The biggest issue with this type of candy is that it’s so sticky, that it will stay in the pockets of your teeth after eating.  All of these factors create the perfect storm scenario for bacteria to destroy teeth and create cavities

How can I stop or prevent cavities?

The best way to stop bacteria in their tracks is to promote better health habits on a daily basis.  Instead of sugary foods, choose whole foods that are high in nutritional value.  Create a stable oral healthcare routine in the morning and night time to brush and floss away any stuck foods from between your teeth.  Lastly protect your teeth using a re-mineralizing toothpaste to keep building up the defenses that bacteria are trying to destory.


Start Smiling Today

The ability to smile confidently is also beneficial to a patient’s overall health and wellbeing. At Pure Holistic Dental, we offer many options and resources to achieve optimal oral health. Our highly skilled and trained practitioners can help replace your missing teeth with bio-compatible methods like a bonded bridge. Call us today at (281) 957-1672 to make an appointment or visit our website to learn more.


Are we a good fit for you?

  • You want to save time and money over your lifetime to get optimal health
  • Your goal is to be the healthiest version of yourself to feel the best
  • You want the least amount of dental work possible