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5 Things That Can Cause Cavities

Title banner with tooth and title "5 things that can cause cavities"

General dentists are dedicated to preserving your oral health through preventative dental treatments and patient education. A large part of maintaining your oral health is understanding the types of things that can potentially threaten your oral health.

One of the most common enemies to your oral health is tooth decay. Tooth decay is also known as cavities, or dental caries. Cavities are areas of your teeth that have started to dissolve your enamel. As they progress, cavities will erode through the dentin layer to eventually reach the dental pulp. At this point, you will likely experience tooth pain and require a root canal to save your tooth. For more information on tooth decay, check out our dental videos page.

The best treatment for cavities is simply to prevent them. However, this can be complicated if you do not fully understand what causes them. While most people will likely experience a cavity at some point in their lifetime, learning about the causes of cavities can help you minimize the amount and severity of cavities you endure. Here are five things that have been known to cause cavities:


Our mouths naturally contain bacteria known as streptococcus mutans. These bacteria feed on the same foods and beverages we do and produce harmful waste products. Problems with cavities can occur when there is too much bacteria present. The waste products made by bacteria are extremely acidic. When large amounts of bacteria accumulate in an area, your tooth is regularly exposed to several acid attacks. Over time, this acid will begin to wear down the enamel leading to a cavity.

Giant tooth being attacked by sugar cube, cake, and soda


Bacteria’s favorite food is sugar. In fact, they use sugar as their primary food source. It only takes about 15 minutes after you eat for the bacteria to consume and digest the sugars from your meal. This is why it is so important to limit your sugar intake and to immediately brush your teeth after consuming foods and beverages with excess sugar. By limiting their food source, you limit the amount of bacteria.


Plaque is a colorless film that sits on the surface of your teeth. If plaque is not removed with brushing and flossing, then it will harden and turn into tartar, also known as calculus. Tartar can only be removed using special dental tools. Bacteria love to live within the dental plaque that accumulates on your tooth’s surface. To minimize the amount of plaque, it is important to brush twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste for at least two minutes. You also want to floss once a day to remove the bacteria from in between your teeth. Eliminating excess plaque makes it harder for bacteria populations to thrive.

Close up of a woman grinding her teeth

Teeth Grinding

People who grind or clench their teeth are at higher risk for developing cavities because this activity causes the enamel to wear down at a faster rate. Worn enamel is less resistant to the acids from the bacteria and breaks down faster. Depending on how bad the wear is, the dentin layer can even become exposed. To prevent this, your dentist will likely recommend a dental mouth guard.

Certain Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, as well as the medications used to manage them, can be detrimental to your oral health. For example, acid reflux can cause your teeth to be exposed to even more acid, which weakens your enamel. Dry mouth can also cause problems because your saliva naturally helps control bacteria populations.

Now that you understand the five things that can cause cavities, you are better equipped to preventing them. Daily oral hygiene and regular visits to your dental office are a large part of this.

Dr. Jonathan McCartney

Dr. Jonathan McCartney received his doctorate from Case Western Dental School. After a few years of practicing in another dental office, Dr. McCartney’s goal was to create an environment for his patients that combines the most advanced dental technology with gentle, affordable, individualized care. The end result of this goal is McCartney Dental, a state of the art North Port modern dental facility.


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