If you’ve ever had a cavity, you know how painful and frustrating they can be. If you have never had a cavity, you are probably glad about it. Cavities – also known as dental caries or tooth decay – are the result of an interaction between sugars and bacteria that live in your mouth. When these microorganisms break down carbohydrates like sugar, they produce acids as one of their byproducts. The acids then begin to destroy the enamel on your teeth, weakening the tooth and making it vulnerable to decay. In case you ever wondered how long does it take for a cavity to form or why it happens at all…Here is everything you need to know:
What Causes Cavities?
Before we dive into how long does it take for a cavity to form, let’s take a minute to understand what causes cavities in the first place. The bacteria that live in your mouth break down the sugars in your diet and produce acids that attack your teeth. If you don’t brush or floss regularly, these acids have more time to work on your teeth and can cause cavities. Or if you have braces, there is an increased risk that bacteria will get into the crevices in your teeth, leading to an increased risk of cavities. If you have diabetes, are pregnant, or are taking certain medications, you are also at a higher risk for cavities.
How long does it take for a cavity to form?
First of all, it is important to note that not all tooth decay turns into a cavity. If cavities form, it takes a long time – between 8 and 10 years! However, there are different factors that affect how long the process takes, including the health of your teeth, your diet, and whether you floss and brush regularly. Tooth decay occurs in three stages:
The Initial Lesion: A chemical reaction between the minerals in saliva and sugars in foods causes the formation of an initial lesion
A small deposit of minerals on the tooth’s surface. At this stage, there is no open tooth decay, and the process is reversible.
Active Decay: The minerals on the tooth’s surface continue to build up, forming a small pit in the tooth’s surface. At this stage, the tooth is still alive and the decay can be reversed by removing the acids from the tooth surface.
Advanced Decay: At this stage, the minerals in the tooth surface continue to build up and eat into the tooth, creating an open cavity.
Cavity: The minerals in the tooth surface continue to build up and eat into the tooth, creating an open cavity that is visible on an x-ray. At this stage the tooth is no longer alive.
The process of cavities forming
As we established above, the process of cavities forming is long and complicated. We have summarized the major stages below:
- The oral bacteria produce organic acids as a byproduct of the breakdown of carbohydrates such as sucrose and fructose. These acids are responsible for tooth decay.
- Acid is also what makes your tooth more sensitive to heat and cold.
- The tooth enamel contains minerals that are soluble in acid.
- If the acid is left in contact with the tooth enamel for long enough, the minerals dissolve and ions are released into the saliva.
- The minerals and ions are re-deposited onto the tooth surface, often below the gum line. This is called “remineralization”.
- The minerals stick to the tooth surface where the acid has dissolved the enamel, creating a cavity.
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Preventing Cavities: Brushing and Flossing
We know how long does it take for a cavity to form, but what can we do to prevent tooth decay? Good oral hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent cavities. Twice a day, you should thoroughly brush your teeth for about two minutes, paying attention to every surface. You should also brush your teeth after each meal that includes carbohydrates. Flossing is also essential for keeping your teeth clean. Cavities form at the gum line, and therefore, brushing your teeth twice a day isn’t enough. You should floss once a day, preferably after each meal that includes carbohydrates.
We know how long does it take for a cavity to form and the process that precedes their formation. Preventing cavities is key and can be achieved by brushing and flossing twice a day and visiting your dentist for a check-up and cleaning every six months.