How do cavities form in teeth?

Cavities (caries) occur when there is plaque on the teeth. Factors such as eating habits and the consumption of (soft) drinks play a role in the development of cavities, not only in terms of what is eaten but also how often this is done in a day.

The onset of caries

The first appearance of caries is generally painless. It takes a long time for caries to develop in the enamel, because enamel is a hard and dense material. Every time you eat or drink something, bacteria in the plaque convert the sugars and carbohydrates in the food into acid. This creates a rush of acid that can attack the enamel, causing cavities. If the caries process continues, the deeper dentin is affected. Dentine is much softer than enamel, so caries can spread there much more quickly.

Recognising caries

Not every small groove or pit in a tooth is a cavity. Dark discolourations or whitish stains on the teeth are also not a cavity. However, they can be signs of incipient or advanced caries.

Only advanced caries in the dentine cause pain. Regular visits to the dentist for check-ups can detect cavities at an early stage and prevent pain.

Preventing caries

Good oral hygiene contributes to cavity prevention. Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Use a toothbrush with a small brush head and soft filaments. Electric toothbrushes are effective in removing plaque: the brush does the brushing for you, so you can concentrate on positioning the brush head. You can also use additional aids, such as toothpicks, floss or interdental brushes. Consult with your dentist or dental hygienist to determine which is most appropriate for you.

Limit the number of times you eat and drink to seven a day. Three times a main meal and four times a day a snack. This way, the saliva in the mouth can help protect the teeth. In addition, regular check-ups with a dentist remain very important.

Incipient cavities can be repaired by brushing properly with fluoride toothpaste and by the use of fluoride applied by the dentist.

Treatment of caries

To fill cavities, a dentist can choose from a number of different filling materials, such as amalgam or composite filling. The choice may be determined by the location and visibility of the filling, but also by durability and patient preference.

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