Cavities are one of the most common dental issues facing people of all ages.
They can result in tooth loss and/or require the need for extraction if left untreated.
The speed of cavity formation depends on many factors, including your oral hygiene routine, diet, and the location of the cavity.
It can take months or years for a cavity to reach the stage that requires treatment from your dentist.
Seeing your dentist twice a year is the best way to prevent cavities from progressing. Your dentist can catch them in their earliest stages and prevent them from reaching stage 5.
The dentist will check your teeth to identify whether you have cavities.
They will also perform a few tests to see if there are any cracks, fractures, or other problems in your teeth. They may use staining and trans-illumination to detect abrasions or cracks in your teeth.
Your dentist will also look at your teeth for any signs of gum disease, including bleeding or yellowing.
Then, they will examine the inside of your mouth to see if you have any tooth pain, especially during biting pressure or after eating.
How long it takes for a cavity to form depends on several factors. One is how much sugar you eat on a daily basis, which can accelerate the decay process.
Another factor is the location of the cavity. Cavities usually form more quickly in teeth near the gumline because the enamel there is thinner and less hard.
It also depends on the acidity of the food and drinks you eat. High levels of dietary sugar allow bacteria to multiply and produce acidic waste.
This acid erodes away your enamel and slowly dissolves the outer layer of your tooth.
Once this acid has eaten through the enamel, it begins to penetrate deeper into your tooth, causing an opening called a cavity.
As the cavity continues to grow, it will eventually reach a nerve in your tooth and cause you to experience pain.
It will also progressively weaken your tooth, leading to more damage and eventually the need for a filling, crown, or root canal treatment from your dentist.
If a cavity gets to the pulp, it can begin to infect your tooth’s inner structure and create an abscess. If left untreated, this can lead to the loss of your tooth, and a root canal might be the only way to save it.
The dentist will discuss possible treatments with you and decide on the one that is right for you.
They will help you choose between leaving a tooth alone, stabilizing it (and keeping it under review), or restoring it with a permanent filling or crown.
They will also explain how often you should visit the dentist for a dental examination so that you can avoid any problems with decay in your teeth.
The bacteria in your mouth, particularly plaque bacteria, eat away at the enamel on your teeth by producing acid that attacks and destroys the vital minerals that make up your tooth’s enamel.
If this process isn’t corrected, it can lead to dental cavities and other damage to your teeth.
The enamel on your teeth is made of calcium and phosphate, which are two of the most important minerals for your teeth to have.
These are the building blocks of hydroxyapatite, which form the hard protective layer of your teeth.
When you eat and drink, bacteria break down the sugars in these foods and beverages, and these chemicals can also attack the vital mineral content of your teeth.
When you brush and floss your teeth, these microorganisms can’t reach the surface of your teeth. When you don’t clean your teeth regularly, the microorganisms are able to get into your tooth and eat away at the minerals that make up your enamel.
Once this happens, your teeth will begin to lose their vital minerals and you will notice white spots on your teeth. These are the beginning stages of dental caries.
Your dentist will recommend a remineralization treatment to counteract the effects of tooth decay, which will help reverse the damage done by the demineralization process.
These treatments are usually a combination of fluoride, phosphate, and calcium.
These treatments help reduce the number of minerals that are lost during tooth decay, and they also can help prevent future cavities.
During the remineralization process, the ions that are lost in the demineralization process are replaced with calcium and phosphate ions that are present in your saliva.
You can find these remineralizing solutions in some store-bought toothpaste and toothbrushes. They’re also available in specialty oral health stores.
Some of these treatments have also been shown to reduce the appearance of white spot lesions on your teeth, which is another sign of demineralization.
Tooth enamel is the hard, outer layer of your teeth that helps protect your tooth against decay. It is also a semi-translucent material that helps the yellow dentin beneath show through, thereby improving the appearance of your smile.
However, like dentin, the enamel is susceptible to a process called erosion.
This occurs when acidic substances in the mouth eat away at your enamel and eventually erode it completely.
Erosion isn’t as common as cavity formation, but it can be just as damaging to your oral health.
It can be caused by several factors, including diet, medications, and unrelated medical issues such as gastrointestinal problems.
The most common cause of enamel erosion is excessive acid exposure from the diet.
Eating a lot of acidic foods, particularly sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices can cause the calcium in your saliva to be less effective at neutralizing the acid in your mouth.
Other possible causes of enamel erosion include chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, low salivary flow, and teeth grinding or clenching.
In severe cases, enamel erosion can result in a crack that exposes the soft dentin underneath.
Symptoms of enamel erosion include sensitive teeth, discolored or stained teeth, and small cracks that can allow bacteria to enter the tooth. If left untreated, tooth enamel erosion can lead to painful dental infections and tooth loss.
Sensitive teeth: When enamel erodes, your teeth may be more sensitive to cold, hot, and sweet foods and beverages.
This is usually accompanied by a twinge of pain. In later stages, this sensitivity can become very severe and you might feel a jolt that takes your breath away.
Discolored or stained teeth: Over time, the weakened enamel on your teeth begins to wear down and expose more of the underlying yellow dentin. This is especially noticeable on front teeth.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent enamel erosion and tooth decay. These include limiting your intake of acidic foods and drinks, brushing twice daily, and flossing daily to remove plaque.
You should also visit your dentist every six months to check for signs of enamel damage and to treat any problems.
The first stage of a cavity is called demineralization, where acidic bacteria attack the enamel and dissolve the minerals it contains. The enamel is then worn away, allowing the acid to penetrate into the dentin layer underneath.
Once the decay has reached the dentin, it can only be reversed if the dentin is restored to its normal condition. Fluoride and hydroxyapatite are two substances that can remineralize dentin.
However, these substances are not always available. For example, people with diabetes may not have enough fluoride in their bodies to remineralize the enamel.
This is why it can take years for a cavity to form and spread throughout your tooth. If you do get a cavity, it is important to act quickly and seek dental care.
When the decay reaches the dentin, it will cause pain in your teeth. It can also affect the nerves in your teeth, which will result in sensitivity.
Your dentist will examine your teeth to determine the severity of the damage. This can help them decide whether you need to be treated with a filling, a crown, or more advanced restorative dentistry procedures.
A cavity in the dentin will progress much faster than one that occurs on the enamel. This is because dentin has a lower mineral content than enamel, which means it is more susceptible to decay.
As the dentin is damaged, it begins to break down and the decay can begin to travel down the tooth and into the pulp, which lies beneath the dentin. Once the bacteria are in the pulp, they can start to cause infection and lead to an abscess.
When a cavity has progressed to this point, it can be painful and even dangerous to the rest of your teeth and gums. If your dentist finds that the infection has reached the pulp, they will likely recommend a root canal to treat it.
The length of time it takes for a cavity to form will depend on factors like diet, oral hygiene habits, and genetic predisposition. However, it is generally expected that it will take a few months to years for a cavity to form.