Cavities are a common occurrence in people of all ages. If left untreated, even a single cavity can lead to more serious health problems. Serious ones that can make or break your smile (and appetite). It is so important to know what cavities are, what causes them, and how to get rid of them.

What is a cavity?

More than just a minor annoyance that can cause pain, cavities, also known as tooth decay, are actual holes in your teeth. These can range in size from barely detectable to large enough to include the whole tooth. A cavity occurs when harmful bacteria in the mouth begins to eat away at a tooth’s enamel. A single tooth can have multiple cavities.

Common Areas for Cavities

Tooth decay occurs in some common areas in the teeth. The surface of your teeth is not completely smooth. There are shallow grooves called fissures and small dips in the surface (also called pits). These are common areas for tooth decay to begin. Other common areas for cavities include:

  • Between teeth: Even the smallest space between teeth is a common area for tooth decay and cavities.
  • Wherever you have other dental work: This can occur on the edges of crowns, other fillings, or bridges. Over time, other dental work can shift, move, and even change size in your mouth. This gives cavities an opportunity to form.
  • Where your tooth meets the gumline: Adults or children who consume daily sugary juice, soft drinks, and energy drinks may find they experience tooth decay and cavities right at the gumline. The sugar and acids gather in this area to make cavities more common here.
  • At the tooth’s roots: A cavity at the roots of teeth usually only occurs if you are experiencing gum disease. Gum disease (also called periodontal disease) causes the gums to recede, exposing the soft roots of each tooth. Cavities at the tooth’s root can cause loss of the whole tooth.
  • Where partial dentures and natural teeth meet: Partial dentures are often fixed to the teeth with a metal band that can trap bacteria, increasing the chance of a cavity.

What causes cavities?

A cavity begins to form when plaque, a sticky type of bacteria found in the mouth, meets up with food or drink that is high in acid or sugar. Saliva can help to wash away some of the sugar and acid we consume, but this sticky plaque helps some of it to remain on the teeth. When plaque is “fed” by acid and sugar, it begins to eat away at a tooth’s enamel. This is the hard, protective shell that protects the tooth itself. Once this enamel thins, tooth decay begins.

Cavities are found most often in children, but adults can continue to develop cavities throughout their lives. The most common type of cavity for people over 50 is due to age-related gum recession that exposes the teeth’s roots.

According to the American Dental Association, the top six causes of cavities include:

  1. Poor oral hygiene, including not flossing and improper or infrequent brushing
  2. A diet high in sugary or acidic food and drink
  3. Dry mouth, a condition where lack of saliva prevents the mouth from natural cleaning
  4. Teeth grinding that can harm the enamel on a tooth’s chewing surface
  5. Genetic factors that include thin enamel or a predisposition to cavity
  6. Avoiding the dentist

How to tell if you have cavities

Cavities are the end result of tooth decay, and there are easy ways to tell if you have one.

  • Bad breath: If you find your breath is bad even when you haven’t eaten, this could be a sign of cavity. Food trapped between teeth is a common cause of cavity. As it lingers between teeth, the food itself begins to decay. This can cause damage to your enamel, leading to a cavity. Bad breath can be an early sign of potential cavities.
  • Increased sensitivity: If you find that your teeth are more sensitive to hot and cold drinks, you may have a cavity. Thinning enamel exposes more of a tooth’s nerves. If your morning cup of coffee or your after-dinner ice cream causes you to flinch, it may be time to visit your dentist for cavity treatment.
  • Pain: If increased sensitivit