Skip to main content

Dental Cavities

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What are dental cavities?

Dental cavities, also called caries, are holes in teeth caused by bacteria. The bacteria mix with carbohydrates from foods and create acids. The acids break down areas of enamel, which covers the outside of a tooth.

Tooth Decay

What increases my risk for dental cavities?

  • Poor tooth care
  • Sugary foods and drinks
  • Not seeing your dentist every 6 months
  • Tightly spaced teeth that are hard to clean and floss
  • Dry mouth, caused by certain treatments or medicines
  • Not enough fluoride in water or not using dental products with fluoride

What are symptoms of dental cavities?

You may not have any symptoms if cavities have just started to form. When cavities reach deeper parts of your tooth, you may start to feel pain. You may also have any of the following:

  • Pain when you chew or eat hot or cold foods
  • Chalky white, yellow, or brown tooth
  • Gum swelling

How are dental cavities diagnosed?

Your dentist will look at your teeth to check for signs of enamel breakdown and cavities. He or she may also use x-rays to find cavities.

How are dental cavities treated?

  • A fluoride treatment may be given during dental visits, or you may use products with fluoride at home. Your dentist will tell you what kind of fluoride you need and how to use it.
  • A filling may be placed in your tooth after the decayed portion is removed. The filling may help to protect your tooth from more decay.
  • A root canal may be needed if the tooth is infected or the decay is severe.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I help prevent dental cavities?

  • Brush your teeth at least 2 times a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use dental floss at least once a day to clean between your teeth.
  • See your dentist every 6 months for dental cleanings and oral exams.
  • Rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash after meals and snacks. Chew sugarless gum.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Avoid sugary and starchy food and drinks that can stick between your teeth.
    Healthy Foods

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain in your tooth or jaw.
  • You have swelling in your jaw or cheek.

When should I call my dentist?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your tooth pain gets worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Learn more about Dental Cavities

Treatment options

Care guides

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.