How do you get cavities?

Dental care, treatment oral cavity and filling

Discover what causes cavities so you can be better informed on what to avoid and how to prevent future cavities from forming and causing discomfort and costly restoration.

What are cavities?

Before we dive into the details of cavities, let’s talk about what a cavity is. A cavity is a hole that forms in your tooth because of tooth decay. This happens when acids in the mouth destroy and wear down your protective enamel. Anyone can get a cavity. Proper dental hygiene and regularly seeing your dentist for cleaning can prevent cavities. If a cavity is left untreated it can lead to a whole bunch of complications including tooth pain, infection, and even tooth extractions. 

How do you get cavities?

As briefly mentioned before, cavities can result from tooth decay, but there are a few common ways cavities form. 

  • Plaque Forms on your teeth – Plaque is a clear sticky film that coats your teeth. It’s caused by eating sugars and starches. If you don’t clean sugars and starches off your teeth, bacteria will feed on them causing plaque to form. Plaque then hardens and turns into tartar, which is hard to remove from your teeth. Since plaque and tartar are so sticky lots of bacteria can get stuck on these surfaces, leading to them wearing down your teeth from the acid they release. 
  • Acid from plaque causes erosion of the tooth – These acids remove minerals in your tooth’s enamel (your enamel is a hard outer layer that protects your teeth). The erosion creates openings and holes in the enamel, basically opening the gate for cavities to form. Now that the enamel is worn off, bacteria and acid reach the next layer of your teeth, the dentin. Dentin is softer than enamel, meaning acid is much more harmful to this layer. 
  • Pulp pain –  As your tooth decays, bacteria and acid break down your teeth. Eventually, it will get to your pulp (which contains the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels). The bacteria will cause your pulp to swell, which causes pain since the swelling squeezes the nerves inside your tooth. It is always best to check with your dentist to be sure what the cause and treatment should be for any tooth sensitivity

How are cavities treated?

Treatment will all depend on the amount of tooth decay.

Types of treatment for cavities can include:

  • Fluoride – This is for when a cavity is caught in the early stages. The point of fluoride treatment is to repair tooth enamel. You may be prescribed toothpaste and mouthwash along with a few fluoride treatments from your dentist.
  • Fillings – The most common way a cavity is treated is by fillings. When a hole forms your dentists will drill out the decayed area and then fill the hole with silver amalgam, composite resin, or gold.
  • Root canal – A root canal is for treating pain in the nerves of your tooth. Your dentist or endodontist will remove the inflamed pulp. Since the pulp contains nerve endings once removed the pain will go away. 
  • Tooth extraction – This is the last option, usually done if a root canal isn’t possible. Your dentist will pull your tooth and replace it with a dental implant. The implant is there to look as if your real tooth is still there and to keep other teeth from shifting. 

How to prevent cavities

Having good oral hygiene will keep cavities and tooth decay away. Here are the best ways to prevent cavities. 

Cavity Prevention Checklist

  • Brush with fluoride toothpaste
  • Limit sugary, starchy foods and drinks
  • Floss your teeth daily
  • Brush or chew sugar free gum after eating or drinking
  • Dental sealants
  • Drink tap water (tap water contains fluoride)
  • Ask your dentist about antibacterial treatments
  • Rinse your mouth with a fluoride mouthwash
  • Visit your dentist at least twice per year


In addition to our handy checklist, here are some helpful links: 

Now that you know all the ways a cavity can be caused, it’s up to you to prevent them! Be sure to practice proper dental hygiene daily, and visit your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and checkup. If you experience pain or think you might have a cavity, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your dentist to treat the ailment and prevent it from getting worse.