A cavity is, simply put, a place on or in a tooth where bacteria have been allowed to destroy either the tooth’s enamel or its more fundamental structure. Left unchecked without the attention of a general dentist, cavities can extend through an entire tooth and begin to affect the nerve — and that’s where painful infections take place. If the tooth is sufficiently compromised by a cavity, it will need to be removed to prevent further damage to the rest of the teeth.
The bacteria that cause cavities live in our mouths, and there’s little to nothing we can do to eradicate them completely. They consume the sugars in the food we eat, just like our bodies do, and they secrete acid as they do it. That acid, left on a tooth’s surface, can gradually eat away at a tooth’s enamel. Saliva and drinking water — to say nothing of brushing and flossing — can help wash away the acid.
But your dentist will tell you, when a cavity first forms, it is so small that you can’t see it — but even that tiny space is large enough for bacteria to grow and exacerbate the problem. Indeed, even as the bacteria are growing, secreting acid, and enlarging the cavity, there may be little to no visible evidence on the surface of the tooth that this is taking place.
That’s why, in addition to limiting the amount of sugar in the foods you eat, your general dentist will recommend regular visits for cleaning and careful inspection of your teeth — to stop the bacteria in their tracks and keep cavities at bay.