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A cavity is an area of tooth that is demineralized, meaning it has decayed and is permanently weaker. Cavities can appear as, quite literally, holes in your tooth. They can also present as soft spots or changes in the texture or opacity of the tooth.

What causes cavities?

Plaque and acid! Plaque contains oral bacteria that uses sugar, present in our diet, to make acid. They not only make acid but thrive in an acidic environment. The acid eats away at your teeth, pulling minerals away from the tooth structure and leaving holes.

Our mouths contain a balance between both healthy and cavity-causing (acidogenic) bacteria. Prolonged acidic conditions enable the bad bacteria to thrive and inhibit or kill the healthy bacteria.

Can I catch cavities from someone else?

Not really.  However, we can transfer cavity-causing bacteria from one another. That means mothers passing it onto their children when sharing utensils or “cleaning” a pacifier that has fallen onto the floor by putting it in their mouths. Or between significant others!

How do I know if I have a cavity?

Most of the time you won’t have any symptoms! However, when cavities progress you may experience toothache, sensitivity, see visible holes or pits in your teeth, or see dark spots on your tooth. Sometimes you may have pain when eating or drinking sweet, hot or cold food.

How are cavities diagnosed?

Your dentist can diagnose cavities with a clinical examination (using both visual and tactile techniques) and/or dental x-rays. Bitewing x-rays can show cavities that cannot be found in the clinical exam.


All of these can increase your risk for tooth decay:

  • not brushing/flossing
  • frequent snacking (especially carbs and candies)
  • soda, energy drinks and juices
  • history of recent cavities
  • certain medications
  • digestive problems like acid reflux
  • eating disorders like bulimia
  • alcohol, drug and/or tobacco use
  • exposed roots of teeth (caused by receded gums
  • dry mouth

Take our cavity risk assessment quiz to determine your risk!

How do I prevent cavities?

  • Brush (at least twice a day) and floss (at least once a day)
  • Brush and floss after eating processed, sugary foods and candies.
  • Drink more water.
  • See your dentist for regular check-ups!
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