The Fight Against Cavities…

Why do I get cavities on my teeth?

Over the last 10 years while practicing dentistry, I realized that a lot of confusion comes from our patients when it comes to the question “Why do I get cavities on my teeth?” 

“Is it from too much candy, soda, soft teeth, or a combination of all these reasons?”

The science on how we get cavities has been well studied and documented. Cavities or decay on our teeth cause by bacteria byproducts. In a more simplified concept:

Cavity formation

  • Sugar from our food = Bacteria food.
  • Bacteria eats sugar and produces a byproduct = Acid content.
  • Acid produced by bacteria destroy our teeth and create a hole on our teeth = Cavity.

When do I need to fix my cavities?

Let’s review the anatomy of the tooth before I answer the above question.  The tooth has 3 parts: Enamel, Dentin, and Nerve.

Enamel, Dentin, Nerve

Enamel is the hardest part of the tooth and also there are no pain receptors in the enamel.  Dentin is the soft part of the tooth and is also the alive part of the tooth. The nerve chamber is where the nerve and blood vessels bring in nutrients to keep the tooth alive.

When a cavity starts, it has to break through the enamel part.  Since this is the hard part of the tooth, it may take many years for the cavity to break through.  Usually at this state, the patient won’t feel anything due to lack of pain receptors in the enamel layer.

Eventually the cavity will get to dentin layer.  At this state, the cavity starts to change its color to brown or black due to the natural yellow color of the dentin layer.  Since dentin is the alive part of the tooth, the patient starts feeling sensitivity on the tooth with the cavity especially to sweet, sour, or cold food and drinks.

If the cavity is left untreated, it will end up reaching the nerve.  Once the cavity reaches the dentin it begins to grow very fast.  Since the dentin is the soft part of the tooth, the cavity can grown and hit the nerve in only a few short months.  Patients will experience extreme pain when the cavity hits the nerve.  Symptoms range from sensitivity to hot and cold drinks, sharp spontaneous pain, constant dull aching pain, to extreme pain, which gets worse when lying down.  Once this happens it is already too late to do a filling.

The best time to fix your cavity is when it is still in the enamel layer.  However, most patients only visit the dentist when they start feeling something hurt.  By the time cavity starts cause some discomfort, it is already in the soft part to the tooth.  At this point, we only have a few months to fix the cavity before a full blown toothache arrives.

So the best answer is to keep up with your 6-month appointment so the doctor can catch the cavities early; when a cavity is diagnosed, we need to fix it ASAP.

– Dr. Vinh Le

 Free Exam With X-rays