The Top 3 Causes of Cavities

The Top 3 Causes of Cavities

Helping you to maintain your oral health is your dentist’s biggest priority. With the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) reporting that 92% of American adults ages 20-64 have at least one cavity, it becomes evident that one of the biggest threats to your oral health are cavities. A cavity is a decayed area on the enamel that can eventually progress through the dentin and into the dental pulp. Once a cavity has reached the pulp cavity, a root canal will need to be performed to prevent the loss of the tooth. 

Cavities can occur on any area of any tooth, however some teeth are at an increased risk for cavity formation. For example, molars are at a higher risk for developing cavities because they contain various pits and fissures and are hard to clean. Additionally, exposed tooth roots can also develop cavities since they don’t have as much protective enamel. 

The good news is that cavities are preventable. Practicing good oral hygiene like brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and having your teeth professionally cleaned every six months are all strategies used to prevent cavities. Additionally, understanding what causes cavities is another way you can prevent them. Here are the top 3 causes of cavities: 


bacteria shown on teeth under magnifying glass

Did you know that your mouth naturally contains bacteria called streptococcus mutans? While this bacteria is necessary for certain functions, it can also contribute to cavity formation in large amounts. This is because bacteria are living things that eat and produce waste. The waste produced by this bacteria is highly acidic and can damage tooth enamel. When there are large amounts of bacteria in one area, this means that there is also a high concentration of acid. Saliva neutralizes this acid when bacteria levels are regulated, however there comes a point where there is too much acid for the saliva to neutralize. 


Since bacteria are living things, they need a food source in order to survive, thrive, and reproduce. Unfortunately, sugar is their primary food source. Bacteria consume fructose, glucose, and lactose, which breaks down into lactic acid that is left on the surface of the teeth. Bacteria also consume sucrose, however this gets broken down into a sticky film that keeps the bacteria on the surface of the tooth. Consuming large amounts of sugar allows bacteria to survive, thrive, and reproduce, which results in the production of more lactic acid and sticky film. 


The sticky film produced by bacteria mentioned above contributes to the formation of dental plaque. Dental plaque is a colorless film that covers the entire surface of the tooth. Since it is sticky, it helps to hold the bacteria firmly in place on your teeth. Plaque also accumulates food debris that bacteria are able to feed off of. Areas where plaque accumulates are also areas where bacteria congregate in large populations. These are the areas that are at the highest risk of developing cavities. If dental plaque is not removed by proper brushing and flossing, then it will harden into something called tartar, which can only be removed using special dental tools. 

Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.