You hear about them at the dentist's office, and maybe you've even had one or two in your lifetime. But do you really know what cavities are all about?
What is a cavity?
A cavity is the space inside a tooth that remains once tooth decay is removed. Plaque, a colourless, sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth, is one of the main causes of tooth decay. The reason we brush and floss every day is to remove plaque, because bacteria in plaque reacts with sugar in the foods we eat to produce acids that can attack and weaken tooth enamel—the hard, protective covering on our teeth. Eroding enamel leaves the teeth unprotected, allowing for cavities to develop more easily.
There are three different places where a tooth can experience decay and cavities:
- On the biting surfaces of the teeth. This occurs when plaque becomes trapped in the grooves or crevices of the teeth. This is most common in children, because they often miss these areas when brushing.
- Between teeth. This occurs when plaque is left to build up on the hard-to-reach surfaces. These areas cannot be reached by a toothbrush alone and may be susceptible to decay if you don’t floss or clean between your teeth, regularly.
- On the root surfaces of the teeth. This is common if you have suffered gum recession or bone loss, often associated with gum disease, or periodontitis. It’s also more common to find decay here as you get older if your gums recede. If plaque is left to build up on the exposed roots of the teeth, then a cavity can quickly develop because roots do not have the same hard enamel covering.
Aren’t cavities just an issue for kids?
Children are very prone to cavities, often on the chewing surfaces where food gets trapped in crevices that kids are likely to miss while brushing. But adults get cavities as well, primarily on the tooth surfaces between your teeth. If teeth are spaced tightly, it’s hard to clean between them to remove plaque. People who experience gum recession may also develop cavities on exposed root surfaces.