A lot of people want to know how long does it take for a cavity to form? Find out plus get tips on how to prevent cavities and products to keep your teeth healthy.

What Is a Tooth Cavity?

A tooth cavity, or tooth decay, is essentially a hole or pit in the tooth.

Given enough time, this can expose the interior of your tooth to the hostile environment of your mouth.

The two main layers of every tooth are:

  1. enamel (the hard, protective, exterior layer)
  2. dentin (the softer interior layer)

Both of these layers can be affected by cavities.

Many people might believe that tooth cavities only affect children. Everyone is at risk of developing cavities, especially if a good oral hygiene routine is not followed.

The natural aging process will cause the gums to recede from your teeth. This will expose more and more of each tooth to the bacteria in your mouth.

Gum disease will also cause gum tissue to recede.

Over time dental fillings can weaken and break. This exposes compromised areas of a tooth to the bacteria in your mouth.

How Do You Know You Have a Cavity?

The development of tooth cavities is dependent on a number of factors.

Generally speaking, the growth of cavities is a slow process and can be quite painless – to begin with.

In the early stages, it is practically impossible for one to find a cavity through self-examination.

Any good oral hygiene routine should be accompanied by regular visits to your dentist. 

A dentist has tools that can help him or her identify areas of softness on a tooth that may indicate the development of a cavity.

X-rays can also help a dentist spot cavities which may be forming between teeth.

Given enough time and the right factors, a tooth cavity can develop to the point where it causes toothache. This will occur after drinking or eating something sweet, hot, or cold.

Eventually, a tooth cavity can progress to the point where it may be big enough to be noticed visually.

What Does a Cavity Look Like?

Without a professional check-up by your dentist, any cavity in its early stages can be impossible to see.

The first visual indication of a tooth cavity can be the appearance of a chalky white spot on the surface of a tooth.

This slight discoloration of the tooth surface is the result of demineralization. Or more simply, a breaking down of the tooth enamel.

As the cavity develops it can change to a brown, yellow, or even black color. Eventually, the cavity or pit will grow until it is visibly noticeable as a hole.

Once bacteria have access to the interior tooth pulp and nerve tissue – infections are possible. These can result in abscesses.

How Are Cavities Formed?

Plaque and tooth decay or tooth cavities go together.

Simple sugars from the food you eat, bacteria and saliva, combine to form a sticky substance called plaque. Excessive plaque on teeth needs to be removed by daily brushing to prevent tartar build-up.

As the anaerobic bacteria feed on the simple sugars they secrete toxins that contain organic acids. The sticky plaque substance holds these acids against the tooth surface for up to 2 hours after formation.

It is these organic acids that attack and damage the enamel and dentin tooth layers. This process is demineralization.

However, the diluting action of your saliva and the natural scrubbing action of your tongue and inner cheeks help to neutralize these acids. They partially remove the plaque from the surface of your teeth.

Furthermore, mineral ions, such as calcium, phosphate, and sometimes fluoride, in your saliva help to remineralize weak spots on your teeth enamel.

If the build-up of bacteria goes unchecked the pH balance on the tooth surface or in the mouth can tilt towards acidic.

Demineralization will overwhelm the natural re-mineralization process and cavities will be the result.

How Long Does It Take For A Cavity to Form In A Tooth?

Even in the absence of a good oral hygiene routine, cavities will not form overnight.

The natural defense mechanisms in your mouth and the re-mineralization action of your saliva, make cavity development a gradual process.

So, how fast do cavities grow?

It can take months or even years for a cavity to progress to the point where corrective action needs to be taken by a dentist.

Factors that can make you more susceptible to the formation and development of tooth decay are:

  • weaker enamel (typically found in children under the age of six)
  • poor diet high in carbohydrates and simple sugars
  • teeth grinding
  • tobacco usage (whether through smoking and/or chewing tobacco)

How Can You Prevent Cavities Forming?

In simple terms, a good oral hygiene routine involves:

  1. brushing at least twice a day
  2. flossing between teeth at least once a day
  3. twice-yearly visits to your dentist
  4. using products that protect against cavities

will, together, prevent cavities from forming.

Brushing Teeth With A Fluoride Toothpaste

Teeth Brushing With Flouride Toothpaste

Make good use of the scrubbing action or your toothbrush combined with abrasive ingredients in your toothpaste.

They are the best method to prevent build-up and remove bacteria-infested plaque from the tooth surfaces that brushing can reach.

The fluoride in your toothpaste will help with the natural re-mineralization action provided by your saliva.



Use either string floss or a water flosser on tooth surfaces not reachable by your toothbrush.

The scrubbing actions that these methods use will prevent the build-up of unwanted food particles and remove bacteria-infested plaque.

Water flossers are the most efficient method of cleaning teeth with braces.

Healthy Diet

Healthy Diet

The anaerobic bacteria present in plaque feed on the simple sugars present in the food you eat. The bacteria are created by the breakdown of the food you eat by enzymes in your saliva.

Thus, have a nutritional diet that minimizes carbohydrates and sugars. These sugars are found in snacks or sweets.

Avoiding these will help prevent the development of cavities.

Visits To Your Dentist

Visits To Your Dentist

Many cavities can only be diagnosed with a professional check-up by your dentist.

Twice yearly visits to your dentist for a check-up and professional clean are a key factor in the prevention of cavities.

Your dentist can also explain to you the best methods for brushing and flossing.

Dental Sealants

A dental sealant is a protective coating placed on the biting surface of teeth. It is also known as a pit or fissure sealant.

The primary purpose is to prevent tooth cavities and is most commonly applied to the rear molars. The rear molars have deep pits and fissures to better grind and crush food before swallowing.

These areas can be difficult to clean. As a result, they are more susceptible to the development of cavities.

Dental sealants are typically used in children who are more at risk of developing cavities. They are applied as soon as their permanent adult molars appear.

However, dental sealants can be of benefit to adults as well.

Use A Mouth Rinse Or Mouthwash

Use A Mouth Rinse Or Mouthwash

Many brands of mouthwash have anti-bacterial ingredients.

These have proven to be effective in reducing the levels of bacteria in the mouth.

Usually, they are used either before or after brushing and are an important part of your oral hygiene routine.

They will ensure your breath stays fresh too!

Using Sugarless Chewing Gum

Saliva is one of the mouth’s principal defenses against bacteria. Both in helping to neutralize its acidic toxins and re-mineralizing tooth surfaces.

There is a link between inadequate saliva production and an increased risk of cavity formation.

Chewing sugarless gum is an excellent way to help increase saliva production. The American Dental Association has awarded its Seal Of Approval to several sugarless gum brands.

How Can Tooth Damage Be Fixed?

How Can Tooth Damage Be Fixed

Your mouth’s natural defense mechanisms help to combat cavity formation every day.

Mineral ions, such as calcium, phosphate, and sometimes fluoride help to re-mineralize tooth enamel. The delivery mechanism is your saliva.

However, this defense can become overwhelmed.

Once a cavity has developed only a visit to your dentist can help.

The only way to reverse the tooth damage caused by a cavity is to drill out the area. It will then be filled with either an alloy of silver or gold or porcelain or composite resin.

All these materials are inert and allergies from fillings are rare.

If cavity damage to the tooth is extensive then crowns can be used. They cap the tooth after the decayed parts have been removed.

Crowns are usually made of gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal.

If tooth decay and/or infection has reached the tooth pulp a root canal may become necessary.

In a root canal the tooth pulp, nerve, and vascular tissues are removed. A rubber-like material is used to fill the space.

A crown is then used to cap the structure.

A complete extraction is also an option for an extensively damaged tooth.

Some patients may opt for this if they are either unwilling or unable to pay for the restoration of a cavity-damaged tooth.

What To Do If You Suspect You Have A Cavity?

What To Do If You Suspect You Have A Cavity

Even though you definitively can not know how long it takes for a cavity to form – there are signs you may have one.

If a cavity is suspected due to toothache, tooth sensitivity, or tooth discoloration, visit your dentist as soon as possible.

The self-treatment of a cavity is not advisable. Only your dentist can make a definitive diagnosis, followed by treatment if necessary.

Better still, many tooth cavities can be detected in their very early stages.

But only if you visit your dentist twice yearly as recommended.

When Should You Get Cavity Treatment?

The type and extent of treatment are determined by how far a cavity has progressed.

If diagnosed in its early stages treatment is usually quick and can be non-invasive.

If you visit your dentist regularly, cavities are usually diagnosed at their earliest stages. He or she can then begin treatment as soon as possible.


How long does it take for a cavity to develop?
A cavity is a very slow process that does not happen overnight. It can take months, or even years, for tooth decay to reach a point where there is a need for you to give it the attention it needs.

Can you get a cavity from not brushing one night?
You may not think it is so bad to not brush your teeth one night because you are just too tired to do it. But this may have consequences down the road that you may not want. If you already have a problem you do not know about that one night may exacerbate the problem for the future.

Can you reverse a cavity?
In the very early stages of tooth decay – any chance of a cavity may be stopped or reversed by continued good hygiene habits. Regular brushing and flossing as well as using a mouthwash that cleanses the mouth of bad bacteria and strengthens teeth will allow your teeth to recover from any enamel damage sustained.

How long until a cavity turns into a root canal?
It takes a while for a cavity to form, sometimes even years. But once a cavity has developed, and is not seen by a dentist, the chance of it eventually becoming a root canal is very high. The time factor from cavity to root canal depends on the environment in the mouth.

Can small cavities go away?
Unfortunately no. Once a cavity has started – it will not go away on its own. Once the bacteria has infiltrated the enamel and created a cavity, the damage is done and it will only get worse with time.

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