When you go to the dentist for a checkup, you hate to hear those four dreaded words: You have a cavity. No one wants cavities, but the average person has 13 cavities by the time he or she reaches ages 40-59. That sparks a natural curiosity about tooth decay: How do cavities form? And how fast do cavities appear?
Let’s take a look at the life cycle of a cavity to provide greater insight.
How Does a New Cavity Form?
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in food, which turns into plaque. The plaque builds up on your teeth and begins to attack the enamel. If it’s not removed in a timely fashion, the plaque can eat a hole through the enamel, causing decay and cavities.
There are certain factors that can put you at a greater risk for developing tooth decay, including:
- Eating high-sugar foods
- Not producing enough saliva to naturally wash away bacteria in the mouth
- Suffering from diabetes
- Practicing poor oral hygiene
How Long Does It Take for a Cavity to Form?
Cavities form faster for young children, whose teeth have weaker enamel, than for adults. Among kids, cavities can form in just a few months. But it can take up to a year for the cavity to form in adults.
How Long Does It Take for a Cavity to Hurt?
Though the actual hole in the tooth may not form for months, you can develop a toothache from a growing cavity in just a few days. You should contact your dentist when you begin to experience pain.
How Does a Cavity Feel?
It hurts to have a cavity. The hole can increase sensitivity in your tooth, and if it’s left untreated, you are at risk of developing an infection.
Many toothaches are caused by cavities. You may be able to feel a slight hole or indentation in your tooth with your tongue. You may feel pain when you chew, especially when you eat hard foods. Cavities may cause either sharp or dull pain, depending on how advanced they are. A cavity that goes untreated for a long time can cause a huge amount of pain. The decay will eventually attack the tooth’s pulp and nerve, which causes pain.
What Does a Cavity Look Like?
A cavity is a small hole in the tooth, but there can be other symptoms. These include:
- Foul breath
- Swelled gums
- Spots on your teeth
If you have a cavity, there are three main options for treating them: fillings, crowns, and, in extreme cases, root canals.
The smartest thing to do is combat tooth decay before it turns into a cavity. You can do this by practicing good oral hygiene and reducing the amount of sugar you eat.