What is a Cavity?

Tooth Character
One phrase children and parents do not want to hear is their children’s dentist saying, “You have a cavity.” The word “cavity” literally means a hole. Cavities can occur in babies, the young and growing, and adults as the result of decaying teeth. Cavities can cause pain which, if not treated, may increase in severity until it is difficult to eat, drink, talk or even open the mouth.
Cavities begin with bacteria in the mouth, which is normal. Some bacteria are good but some are not. The good bacteria help to control the type of bacteria that is bad and destructive. All of the bacteria need food to survive. They get this when you eat, but a problem occurs when the bad bacteria act on the food to produce an acid that is destructive to your teeth.
The first thing the acid does is dissolve tooth enamel, which is the tooth’s outer layer. Then, certain minerals in the tooth, like calcium and phosphate crystals, begin to dissolve. Additionally, the bad bacteria join with the food to produce plaque, a slimy substance that attaches itself on and between your teeth. When not removed, plaque causes cavities. Most of this happens beneath the surface of the tooth, so is not readily visible. Your children’s dentist will determine if you are developing cavities when your teeth are examined at your regular visit.
Unfortunately, the damage from a cavity is permanent and cannot be reversed, but it can be repaired. A dentist must clean out all the rotting material (demineralized tooth structure) and fill in the resulting hole. If the cavity is left untreated, the tooth decay continues and can even go so far as to destroy the root of the tooth.
Although cavities are often caused by poor dental hygiene, genetics plays a part. Some people inherit a tendency to develop cavities.
Young children who are growing need help with the care of their teeth. Here are some cavity prevention techniques that should be implemented.
  • Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily, ideally at bedtime, to remove the plaque that builds up between the teeth

It is important that your children’s dentist visits become routine. That way, cavities can be identified and treated early before they cause more severe dental problems.