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What Actually Happens When You Get a Cavity and Why They're So Dangerous

About 90% of adults over 20 have at least one cavity. The good news is that cavities are fairly straightforward to treat with

About 90% of adults over 20 have at least one cavity. The good news is that cavities are fairly straightforward to treat with a dental filling. Fillings are a type of direct dental restoration that can quickly address your cavity in one appointment.

At Ardsley Dental Spa in Ardsley, New York, our team provides aesthetically pleasing, tooth-colored fillings to treat cavities.

But what happens before you get to the point of needing a filling? 

What happens when you get a cavity

A cavity is a hole that forms in one of your teeth due to bacterial activity and the demineralization of your tooth's hard tissues (enamel, dentin, and cementum). 

Here's what happens when you get a cavity:

Initial stage

The process usually begins with plaque accumulating on the tooth's surface. Plaque is a sticky biofilm containing bacteria that feed on sugars and secrete acids as byproducts. The acids slowly erode your tooth's enamel, the normally hard, protective outer layer.

Enamel demineralization

The acids produced by bacteria trigger demineralization, when minerals like calcium and phosphate leach out from the enamel. This process weakens your enamel structure and creates a small pit or lesion on the tooth's surface.


Ongoing demineralization can cause the decay to progress deeper into the tooth, reaching the dentin, the softer layer beneath the enamel. Dentin is more vulnerable to acid attack, and decay spreads more rapidly through it than enamel.


As the decay advances, you might experience sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages. That’s because enamel erosion and exposed dentin can lead to nerve irritation.

Cavity formation

Decay often results in a cavity. At this point, your tooth's integrity is compromised. Untreated cavities can grow and cause more serious dental problems.

Why cavities are so dangerous

Left untreated, cavities can lead to:


Discomfort might be the first sign of trouble. As the decay reaches the inner layers of your tooth, including the pulp (which contains nerves and blood vessels), you may suffer significant pain and discomfort.

Pain from a cavity can manifest in many ways. Some people notice the pain only when they chew, while others might experience a constant throbbing ache. The severity of your pain depends on the depth of the cavity and if your tooth pulp is compromised.


In some cases, an infection develops within your tooth, leading to an abscess, a pus-filled pocket that can cause intense pain and swelling.

Infections often respond to a round of antibiotics, but any infection, even an oral one, can be dangerous for those with weakened immune systems. Oral infections can spread to other parts of your body and increase your risk of osteomyelitis, cellulitis, and sepsis.

More complex treatment needs

Untreated cavities increase your risk of more complex treatment. For instance, if the decay is extensive, you may need a crown, root canal, or even extraction.

Prevention and treatment

The best way to deal with cavities is to prevent them in the first place. That means maintaining good oral hygiene practices, such as regular brushing and flossing, limiting sugary and acidic foods, and visiting Ardsley Dental Spa for regular checkups and cleanings.

If you already have a cavity, your dentist removes the decayed portion of the tooth and fills the resulting hole with a tooth-colored, metal-free composite material. Thanks to a local anesthetic and sedation dentistry, you remain comfortable and relaxed while we restore your tooth.

Dealing with a cavity? Don’t postpone the care you need. Give us a call at 914-875-2049 or book your visit online.

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