What Causes a Cavity?

CWD EditorCommon Dental Issues & Procedures

What Causes a Cavity?

At Cottonwood Dental, we often get questions about what causes cavities and how to prevent them. Cavities result from tooth decay, which happens in several stages. The good news is that decay is largely preventable with good oral hygiene habits, regular dental visits, and a healthy diet.

How Does Teeth Decay?

Although cavities are relatively common, a lot needs to happen before they can begin forming on once healthy teeth. The minerals surrounding our teeth, called enamel, must first start to dissolve in a process known as demineralization.

Demineralization happens when sugars aren’t cleaned off your teeth. Bacteria feeds on these sugars, producing acids which wear away enamel—the tooth’s hard outer surface. Tiny openings in enamel are the first stage of cavities. As acids continues to attack, decay spreads to the next layer of the tooth, called dentin. Eventually, decay can reach the pulp—the center of the tooth. At this point, a root canal may be necessary to repair and save the tooth.

What Causes Tooth Decay—And How Can You Prevent It?

So how do you get cavities? There are several different habits that can cause tooth decay. One of the most obvious cavity causes is poor oral hygiene. Patients who don’t brush regularly and floss daily are more likely to develop cavities. This usually originates as a result of plaque formation that builds up over time and damages teeth.

Poor eating and drinking habits—like frequent snacking and sipping sugary drinks—can also lead to tooth decay and cavities. Foods that cling to your teeth for a long time, or tend to get trapped between teeth, like candy, cake, dried fruit, honey, chips, and soft breads, are more likely to cause decay as well. 

Can You Tell if You Have a Cavity?

Tooth cavity symptoms can vary. When a cavity is just beginning, you may not feel anything at all. As decay progresses and gets larger, it may cause symptoms like:


  • Toothache
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot, or cold
  • Visible holes or pits in your teeth
  • Black, brown, or white staining on any surface of a tooth
  • Pain when you bite down 

How are Cavities Treated? 

There are several different treatments for cavities that Dr. G can perform. Most patients at Cottonwood Dental receive a fluoride treatment or filling for their cavities. These two treatments are used only in the early stages of a cavity development. Crowns are required when the natural top of a tooth is badly damaged by a cavity. If tooth decay or cavities reach the pulp or nerve of a tooth, then patients will need a root canal.

To maintain healthy teeth, it’s important to see the dentist at least every six months. Patients who receive regular dental checkups and preventive cleanings can rest assured that Dr. G and the team at Cottonwood Dental will help to keep their teeth clean and healthy.

About The Author

Dr. David Giaquinto, DDS

Dentist at Cottonwood Dental

Dentistry is a profession that requires many layers of knowledge and training. My background encompasses three post-grad degrees along with a command of aesthetics and precision. Both of those are necessary when creating the great results that we promise our patients. Being a graduate of the University of New Mexico and Marquette University School of Dentistry has provided me with a launching point for my practice at Cottonwood Dental. My ongoing research… [Read full bio]