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A man in pain holding touching his teeth

Cavities are among the most common dental problems. Tooth decay is caused by the bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria feed off of sugars and produce acids as a byproduct. The bacteria can turn into plaque, which is a sticky substance that adheres to the teeth. The acids produced by the bacteria erode the tooth enamel, which leaves the teeth susceptible to tooth decay.

If you’ve developed a toothache near Tukwila, it could be a sign that you have a cavity and you should visit a dentist promptly. However, cavities do not always cause tooth pain, which is why it’s also important to see your dentist for regular examinations.

Risk Factors for Getting Cavities

Everyone with teeth is at risk for getting cavities but the following factors can increase your risk:

  1. Tooth location – teeth in the back of your mouth like molars and premolars are most susceptible to getting a cavity as these teeth have lots of grooves, pits, and crannies, and multiple roots that can collect food particles.
  2. Certain foods and drinks – food that clings to your teeth like sticky, sugary foods are more likely to cause decay than foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
  3. Frequent snacking and sipping – you give your mouth bacteria more fuel to produce acids that attached your teeth and wear them down.
  4. Inadequate brushing – if you don’t clean your teeth soon after eating and drinking plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can begin.
  5. Not getting enough fluoride – fluoride helps prevent cavities and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth damage so getting enough is important to reducing your risk for cavities.
  6. Younger or older age – cavities are most common among children, teenagers and older adults due to inadequate teeth care, and for older adults it is due to teeth becoming more vulnerable to root decay.
  7. Worn fillings or dental devices – if you have dental fillings, over the years they can weaken and begin to break down which allows plaque to build up more easily. Dental devices can also stop fitting well, allowing decay to begin underneath them.
  8. Heartburn – heartburn can cause stomach acid to flow into your mouth (reflux) which wears away the enamel of your teeth causing significant tooth damage and creates tooth decay.
  9. Eating disorders – anorexia and bulimia can lead to significant tooth erosion and cavities.
  10. Dry mouth – saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and plaque from your teeth. Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva which means food and plaque aren’t getting washed away.

How to Prevent Getting Cavities in Teeth

Follow a Good Oral Hygiene Routine

father brushing teeth with daughterOne of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of tooth decay is to brush your teeth at least twice per day and floss daily. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and clean your teeth for at least two minutes, brushing one section of your mouth at a time. Try not to press too hard with your toothbrush because this can damage your gums and teeth.

Floss at least once every day to remove food particles and plaque between your teeth and underneath the gum line. Your dentist might also recommend that you use mouthwash. Mouthwash can help rinse out extra food residue.

If you have trouble with manual dexterity, your dentist may advise you to try an electric toothbrush and flossing aids, such as a water flosser.

And don’t forget to get routine teeth cleaning twice a year by your dentist.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Since the bacteria in your mouth thrive in a sugary environment, it’s important to try to limit your intake of sugar. Some common sources of added sugars include white bread, soda, sports drinks, juice, and pastry. Remember to eat low-fat or nonfat dairy products each day to give your teeth the calcium they need. If you’re a vegan, you can get calcium from plant-based foods such as broccoli, almonds, or kale. Avoid sugary and sticky foods as they can stick to your teeth longer and attract more cavity-causing bacteria.

Avoid foods that get stuck in the grooves and pits of your teeth for long periods or brush soon after eating them. And drink plenty of water which helps wash out extra food residue and doesn’t add more cavity-producing sugar. Plus, some tap water also has fluoride which helps strengthen teeth against cavities.

Chew Sugar-Free Gum

Did you know that chewing certain sugarless gum can actually help to prevent cavities by increasing the flow of saliva in your mouth? The American Dental Association awarded their Seal of Acceptance to Wrigley’s, Orbit, Eclipse, and Extra chewing gums for helping to prevent cavities.

Get Dental Sealants

The next time you see your dentist for a check-up and cleaning, ask him or her if you should get dental sealants. Dental sealants are painted on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth. The crevices and grooves in these teeth can make it difficult to clean them adequately. Dental sealants can help protect them from bacteria.

How to Know if You Have Cavities

The most common symptoms and signs of a cavity include

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Mild to sharp pain when eating or drinking something sweet, hot or cold
  • Bad breath
  • Cracked tooth
  • Dark spots or holes
  • Toothaches – spontaneous pain or pain that occurs without any apparent cause
  • Brown, black or white staining on any surface of a tooth
  • Pain when you bite down

If you are experiencing these symptoms and think you have a cavity it’s important to schedule a dental checkup. During your dental checkup, your dentist will do an x-ray and probe your teeth looking for cavities and other dental problems. With regular dental checkups, you can ensure that you catch dental problems like cavities early-on before they become a major dental issue requiring extensive and expensive dental treatments.

How Cavities are Treated

Treatment for a cavity or cavities in teeth depends upon how bad the cavity is. Most of the time, your dentist removes the decayed portion of your tooth with a drill. The hole is filled with a filling made of either silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or composite resin.

In some cases, dental crowns are used when a tooth is so badly decayed that not much of it remains. The damaged part of the tooth is removed and repaired then the crown, made from gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal, is fused over the rest of the tooth.

If the root or pulp of your tooth is dead or injured in a way that can’t be repaired, your dentist uses a root canal to remove the nerve, blood vessels, and tissue along with the decayed portions of the tooth. The tooth root is filled with a sealing material and a crown might be needed over the filled tooth.

What Can Happen if You Don’t Treat a Tooth Cavity?

Cavities and tooth decay are so common that you may not take them seriously. And you may think that it doesn’t matter if children get cavities in their baby teeth. However, cavities and tooth decay can have serious and lasting complications, even for children who don’t have their permanent teeth yet.

Some potential dental issues that can occur if you don’t treat a cavity include

  • Pain that interferes with daily living
  • Tooth abscess which is a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection and can lead to more serious or even life-threatening infections
  • Chewing problems
  • Weight loss or nutrition problems from painful or difficult eating or chewing
  • Tooth loss
  • Damage or broken teeth
  • Positioning shifts of teeth after tooth loss

Don’t let a minor cavity turn into a major dental problem. If you think you have a cavity contact your dentist immediately to schedule a check-up.

If you are located in the Tukwila or Renton, WA area, our experienced dental team can help you treat or prevent cavities. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment!

About the Author – Dr. Thuy Nguyen, DDS

Dr Thuy NguyenDr. Thuy Nguyen DDS in Tukwila, WA holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and received a Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Washington. In 2011, she also completed the Progressive Orthodontic Program. She is known for her fine work and a friendly and caring attitude. Her enthusiasm for dentistry is contagious, as she designs and improves smile after smile. Dr. Nguyen is bilingual in English and Vietnamese. She maintains memberships to the Seattle King County Dental Association, The Washington State Dental Association, and The American Dental Association.


Tooth Decay, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIH).

Dental Health and Cavities,

Cavities/Tooth Decay, Mayo Clinic.

Davenport, Tammy. 7 Ways to Prevent Cavities. Very Well Health, July 15, 2019.