Cavities, or tooth decay, are holes in your tooth. Cavities are a highly preventable disease caused by bacteria with many contributing factors. Bacteria is normally present in the mouth; it converts all foods, especially sugar and starch, into acids.
Bacteria, acid, food debris and saliva combine in the mouth to form a sticky substance called plaque that sticks to the teeth. It is most prominent on the back molars, just above the gum line on all teeth, and at the edge of fillings. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel surface of the tooth and create holes in the tooth (cavities). Cavities are usually painless until they grow very large and affect nerves or cause a tooth to fracture. If left untreated, a tooth abscess can develop which can lead to the loss of the tooth.
Many patients with cavities report having no symptoms, but if symptoms do occur they may include visible holes or pits in the teeth and tooth pain, particularly after consuming sweet, hot, or cold foods and drinks.
Causes of cavities include:
- A diet high in sweets, carbohydrates and sugars
- Living in communities with limited or no fluoridated water supplies
- Poor oral hygiene
- Reduced salivary flow
- Being a child
- Being an older adult