What is a Cavity?

picture of person with tooth painWe asked our licensed dental assistants to tell us about the signs and symptoms of cavities and what we can do to prevent them.

A cavity (known as tooth decay or caries) often begin with no symptoms at all. Early signs of a cavity may include discoloration (typically brown, black, or chalky white) and sensitivity to hot, cold, pressure, or sweets.

Enamel is the first layer of our teeth, it is white in color, and is the hardest substance in our bodies. It is the outer protective shell for many layers within the tooth.

Photo of cavity through layers of tooth

Bacteria, food particles, and saliva work together to form plaque and tartar that build up on the surface of a tooth. Acid that is capable of breaking down tooth enamel is formed when sugary and starchy foods mix with the plaque and tartar that is built up on your teeth. Once a hole is created in the enamel, the acid has access to dentin, a soft second layer of the tooth, where acid can move more quickly eventually reaching the pulp and nerve. Once it reaches this stage, depending on the size of the hole created by the cavity, a piece of the tooth may break off. Pain associated with the cavity will increase the closer it moves to the nerve.

So, what can we do to help prevent cavities in the first place?

photo of healthy snacks

  • Choose healthy snacks and keep pop, juice, sugary snacks, and condiments to a minimum.
  • Consume pop and juices in one sitting, preferably during a meal time. Sipping throughout the day allows acid to break down enamel for an entire day.
  • Brush and floss twice daily to remove plaque and prevent tartar buildup.
  • Have regular dental cleanings, checkups, and x-rays to monitor the development of cavities and remove plaque and tartar buildup.

Click here to find out more about what we can do to treat your cavity.



Szalay, B. (2014, August 20). Cavities (Tooth Decay): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Retrieved April 9, 2015, from http://www.livescience.com/44223-cavities-tooth-decay.html