what are Cavities

Rockford Dentist - The Teeth People

A cavity, also called tooth decay, is a hole that forms in your tooth. Cavities start small and gradually become bigger when they’re left untreated. Because many cavities don’t cause pain in the beginning, it can be hard to realize that a problem exists. Regular dental appointments can detect tooth decay early.

Finding out that you have a cavity might come as a surprise. This is especially true if you think you have a good oral hygiene routine. However, even if your dentist delivers this news, there are ways to treat a cavity and prevent new ones from forming.

Symptoms of Tooth Cavities

The symptoms of a cavity depend on the severity of the decay.


They include:

  • tooth sensitivity

  • tooth pain

  • a visible hole in your teeth

  • black or white staining on your teeth

Dentist showing cavity on tooth inside t

Causes of Tooth Cavities

Tooth cavities are caused by plaque, a sticky substance that binds to teeth. Plaque is a combination of:

  • bacteria

  • saliva

  • acid

  • food particles

Everyone has bacteria in their mouth. After eating or drinking foods with sugar, bacteria in your mouth turn sugar into acid. Plaque starts forming on your teeth soon after eating or drinking anything sugary. This is why regular brushing is important.


Plaque sticks to your teeth, and the acid in plaque can slowly erode tooth enamel. Enamel is a hard, protective coating on your teeth that protects against tooth decay. As your tooth enamel weakens, the risk for decay increases.

Everyone is at risk for cavities, but some people have a higher risk. Risk factors include:

  • too many sugary or acidic foods and drinks

  • a poor oral hygiene routine, such as failing to brush or floss daily

  • not getting enough fluoride

  • dry mouth

  • eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia

  • acid reflux disease, which can result in stomach acid wearing down your tooth enamel

Cavities develop more often in the back teeth, according to the Mayo Clinic. These teeth have grooves and openings that can trap food particles. Also, these teeth are sometimes harder to reach when brushing and flossing.