Cavities can be devastating, but they’re often developed over time. Those with thin enamel may experience quicker buildup than those with durable teeth. Additionally, lifestyle choices, diet and time are factors. It can take months—even years—before a tooth decays to the point of cavity development. You may be wondering exactly how fast do cavities form? Dentists examine patients every six months, as constant check-ups are key influencers of healthy teeth. Cavities don’t form overnight, as tooth decay, itself, is a prolonged process. Understanding this process can help fortify your teeth.


Teeth decay occurs from the acids produced by bacteria. This bacteria produces acid when presented with sweet, sticky food. Dentists commonly advise against eating too much sugar—especially sugars packed with sucrose—as they “trigger” bacteria into initiating an acid release. Sugar isn’t only contained in candy, either. In fact, it’s contained in a wide variety of carbohydrate foods. As carbs are digested, they’re broken down into fructose and glucose: sugars. While digestion mostly occurs in the stomach, a portion of it happens in the mouth. Soft drinks, candy and bakes goods might taste good, but they’re highly susceptible to the mouth’s digestive processes. When combined with the mouth’s bacteria, these foods assist in acid production. If left for too long, these acids can dissolve the many mineral crystals within your teeth. Again, this is a slow process. If acids are left in the mouth, however, they can break through a tooth’s enamel—exposing its other layers. When this happens, a caries lesion occurs. These lesions are the precursors to cavities, but they can be reduced with different fluoride products.


Tooth decay occurs across several stages. The first stage of dental decay occurs within a tooth. During this stage, the enamel reveals a white spot. This spot reveals a weakened interior structure. During this stage, a tooth can actually repair itself with the assistance of fluoride products and your own saliva. If decay is allowed to break the enamel surface completely, however, damage may be permanent. In the next stage, decay will destroy a tooth completely. Untreated cavities can become dangerous breeding grounds for destructive decay—and this decay, once bled through a tooth’s outer enamel, can actually reach a tooth’s nerve. This stage of decay can take months to occur. Some cavities are seemingly immune to time, not worsening despite the person’s habits or diet. These chronic cavities may look darker, as they’ve become stained over time due to regular drinking and eating. They will, however, eventually worsen to the point of needing a filling. It’s important to understand that tooth decay can happen beneath a tooth’s filling. Regardless of a tooth’s restoration, some bacteria, food particles and acids can enter a tooth’s recess if a filling hasn’t been installed correctly. In other cases, parts of a filling can be lifted by sticky food. If a recess is left open, bacteria—and its acid—can easily impact a tooth’s inner confines.


Understandably, tooth decay prevention is a constant tug-of-war. For some, thin enamel is the cause of many cavities. For others, sugary drinks, gum and candy overconsumption is a culprit. Everyone’s mouth is different, and everyone’s saliva has different restorative minerals. If you’re getting cavities frequently—or, if you just want to have good cavity prevention—you should talk to your dentist about fluoride products. Fluoride mouthwash and toothpaste is your best bet. To prevent tooth decay, you’ll need to strengthen them. To strengthen them, you’ll need to reduce your mouth’s bacteria. Fluoride, along with other sealants, serves to directly neutralize bacteria. If bacteria is killed, it can’t release tooth-decaying acids. More importantly, fluoride can actually penetrate your teeth—cleaning up bacteria from the inside out. This is one of fluoride’s best qualities, because food particles and bacteria frequently become lodged within the inner confines of a tooth. Dentists suggest brushing with fluoride-containing toothpaste at least twice per day. If you have particularly weak enamel, purchase a fluoride-containing product which has enamel-strengthening minerals. While age doesn’t play a significant factor in cavity prevention, children often have thinner enamel. The question of, “How fast do cavities form?” is up for debate—as lifestyle plays a huge roll. In general, however, your premolars and molars will collect the most bacteria due to their general inaccessibility. You should, for this reason, ask your dentist about sealant. Sealant is a specialized protective coating material. It blocks bacteria from sticking, grooves from getting filled and acid from collecting upon a tooth’s surface.


At the end of the day, you should brush your teeth liberally. Brush them after every meal, and especially after drinking sugary drinks. You can’t totally eliminate your mouth’s bacteria, but you can diminish it through continuous flossing and brushing. Get check-ups often, and ask your dentist about any particular tooth conditions you might have. A surprising amount of people have thin enamel, but sugarless gums, prescription mouthwashes and enamel-boosting toothpaste can help. Take care of your teeth, and your teeth will take care of you.

Please schedule an appointment online or call dentist in Mesa, AZ at (480) 838-8558 to have a consultation with Dr. Christopher Payne, and we will be happy to help.


2024 S Don Carlos Ste A,
Mesa, AZ 85202

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