Cavities, also called dental caries, are holes or structural damage in your teeth. This is also referred to as tooth decay. Tooth decay is a common disorder, second only to the common cold, according to the National Library of Medicine.
A cavity develops like this:
- Normal bacteria in your mouth change sugar and starches into acids. The bacteria, acids, food particles and saliva combined to form plaque, which sticks to your teeth usually just above the gum line, within just 20 minutes after eating.
- If not removed, the plaque turns into tartar.
- Both plaque and tartar can irritate your gums, causing gingivitis or eventually periodontal disease. As we know from Periodontal Disease: Get the Facts and Avoid Gum Disease, this can result in tooth loss.
- Or acids in plaque may damage your enamel, creating holes (or cavities) in your teeth.
- Even one cavity left untreated can lead to a tooth abscess (infection) or destruction of the inside of the tooth (pulp), ending in tooth loss by extraction.
- And, one missing tooth left untreated may end in a mouthful of missing teeth.
- Cavities usually do not hurt, unless they grow very large and affect nerves or cause a tooth fracture. An untreated cavity can lead to an infection in the tooth called a tooth abscess. Untreated tooth decay also destroys the inside of the tooth (pulp).
- If it is not treated, in extreme and rare cases tooth decay can cause death. Infection in an upper back tooth can spread to the sinus behind the eye, from which it can enter the brain and cause death. Tooth decay is an infectious process caused by acid-producing bacteria.
Or treated, one cavity can be repaired and do no more damage. Obviously, the earlier you detect and treat a cavity, the less damage it can do. Depending on how severe your cavity is, it may be treated with a filling, crown or root canal and a crown.