Overall, there seem to be fewer cavities in America than there were decades ago. Unfortunately, there are still an alarming number of people with tooth decay, many of them untreated. Over 70% of adults develop tooth decay by the age of 20, and cavities remain the number one chronic disease among school-aged children. In spite of the warnings, many people still choose not to seek treatment, exacerbating the problem of tooth decay and its consequences – like destructive cavities.
How a Cavity Forms
Most people become aware of their cavities due to the discomfort of tooth sensitivity, which is a common indication of tooth decay. Tooth decay, however, begins long before you may notice it. The sticky substance that can sometimes coat the surface of your teeth, commonly known as plaque, is comprised mostly of oral bacteria. While most of the 600 different kinds of bacteria in your mouth are harmless, one in particular is suspected of being the main cause for tooth decay.
When you eat or drink, Streptococcus mutans convert the sugars and carbs from your meal into lactic acid. This may be the reason many people believe sugar is the main cause of cavities. In truth, it is the acid derived from the sugar that is to blame. The acid attacks and weakens your tooth enamel, diminishing its ability to protect your tooth. Bacteria rest in the small holes that form in your enamel, safe from the reach of your toothbrush and free to continue producing acid and attacking your teeth.
Tooth sensitivity does not usually occur during the beginning stages of tooth decay, which may be a reason for the commonness of cavities. The layer of tissue under tooth enamel, called dentin, is comprised of tiny tubules that lead back to the bundle of nerves at the center of your tooth, called pulp. When bacteria eat away enamel, the dentin becomes exposed, and the tooth may become sensitive. To stop the infection and treat the cavity, your dentist may recommend a filling to stop decay from spreading and to strengthen the afflicted tooth.