What is a cavity?

small child sucking thumb

by: Dr. Tom Swanlund

Cavities are holes in the teeth that vary in size and depth. They form when harmful acids erode the enamel.

Anyone can get cavities, but you can protect yourself with good dental care habits. Regular brushing, flossing, checkups, and dental hygiene cleaningscan keep your teeth strong and healthy.

How common are cavities in Canada?

Cavities are the most common chronic diseases among children in Canada. Over 50% of children ages 6 to 11 have had a cavityยน.

Children may also experience a related dental concern called early childhood caries (ECC). Surgeries for treating ECC are the most common among children in Canada, especially among Indigenous children.

In general, cavities affect children more, but adults can develop them too.

Why do cavities occur?

Harmful bacteria feed off starch and sugar. The food debris, bacteria, and acid combine and form a thin film called plaque.

Plaque is hard to see because of its transparent color, but thankfully, it can be removed by brushing. If plaque lingers, the acids in it break down the enamel. This results in holes called cavities.

Several factors like receding gums, thinning enamel, dry mouth, and a sugary or starchy diet can make adultsmore vulnerable to cavities.

Eating disorders and acid reflux can also increase your risk for tooth decay. If you have dental fillings, decay can still form around their edges.

Cavity symptoms

You may not notice cavities if theyโ€™re only starting to form. Here are symptoms you can look out for:

  • Increased tooth sensitivityor soreness
  • Pain when chewingor biting
  • Dark spots or discoloured tooth surfaces
  • Visible holes
  • Bad breath
  • Facial swelling
  • Bleeding gums

Cavity diagnosis

Dentistscan diagnose cavities upondental examination by using various dental instruments. They may also recommend X-rayswhich can locate a cavity before itโ€™s even visible.

Cavity treatment

Your doctor may prescribe pain medications to help you feel better before your appointment.

Avoid food and beverages that may trigger tooth sensitivity while waiting to see your dentist. Continue to brush and floss your teeth to prevent deposits from building up and further irritating the area.

Your dentist can customize a treatment plan for you after diagnosing the issue. Treatment options depend on the severity of the cavity.

  • For mild cavities, your dentist may recommend dental fillings. Materials for fillings vary. Your dentist chooses one depending on the location, function, and type of tooth affected.
  • For cavities that have already progressed, you may need crowns. Crowns are ideal if thereโ€™s not much natural tooth structure left. Your dentist removes the damaged part of the tooth and fits a dental crown over it.
  • If the tooth pulp is damaged and irreparable, your dentist may suggest seeing a root canal specialist. A root canal procedure removes decayed tissue, nerve, and blood vessels. Afterward, the tooth is filled and sealed. You may also need a dental crown to strengthen and boost tooth function.

Cavity Prevention

You can prevent cavities by making simple lifestyle changes. Boost your oral hygiene routine with the following tips:

  • Switch to an electric toothbrush for more efficient cleaning.
  • Floss daily to remove debris in tight spaces between teeth and hard-to-reach areas.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary and starchy food and beverages.
  • Get dental sealants to keep debris out of chewing tooth surfaces.
  • Keep up with your routine dental appointments.

Untreated, cavities can lead to tooth loss. Youmight not know you have one, so be sure to see your dentist regularly. Commit to regular dental visits even if your mouth looks and feels fine.

Looking for a dentist in Winnipeg, Manitoba? Contact us at Aqua Dental Wellness today.

Our teamhas been helping our Winnipeg neighbours achieve and maintain healthy smiles for over 30 years. Weโ€™re more than happy to serve more members of our community.


  1. How common are oral health problems among children? https://www.wechu.org/oral-health/how-common-are-oral-health-problems-among-childre