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Dental cavities

Dental cavities (dental caries) is an infectious disease with many causes that can begin to develop in childhood. It is also known as tooth decay.

What causes cavities?

The disease begins when a specific type of bacteria is present in the mouth. These bacteria are fed by the sugars and starches in food and drinks and will create an acid that breaks down the enamel of the teeth. These bacteria are contagious and can be passed between family members and others by such activities as close contacts with the mouth and sharing spoons, cups and food.

Prevention strategies

Clean Your Teeth and Mouth Daily to Remove the Cavity-Causing Bacteria
  • Brush at least 2 times daily-the beginning and the end of your day after eating, for best cavity protection.
  • Use a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Always use a brush with soft bristles (never hard) to protect your teeth and gum tissue from harm.
  • Floss daily.
  • Clean your tongue too.
  • Before bed time and after eating.
  • If a person is at special risk for dental problems, a fluoride mouth rinse should be used before bedtime (no eating or drinking afterward except water).
  • People with dry mouths need to take extra care to protect their teeth from decay.

  • Topical: Applied directly to the outer surface of the teeth to make them stronger and less likely to get cavities. Examples are: toothpaste with fluoride; fluoride treatments such as fluoride varnish applications; over-the-counter fluoride rinses; and drinking fluoridated water (it washes over your teeth).
  • Systemic: Swallowed, so it works within your body's systems to make teeth strong as they are developing. Examples include drinking fluoridated municipal tap water, taking fluoride supplement tablets if you are a child at high risk for decay and don't have fluoridated water. See policy statement on Fluoridation of Public Drinking Water (PDF).

Dental Sealants
  • Topical: Dental Sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to cover the pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of permanent molars to protect these teeth from developing cavities. Dental sealants are effective both in preventing tooth decay and in stopping the progression of the beginning stage of tooth decay.

  • Limit how much and how often you consume sugar.
  • Limit how much soda (even diet soda) and juice you drink (no more than one serving per day).
  • Replace sugar snacks with healthy choices such as fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and cheese. Did you know that there are "detergent foods" like apples that actually help clean teeth while you eat them?
  • Limit snacks to twice a day.
  • Drink plenty of tap (fluoridated) water in between meals.

Chew Xylitol Gum
  • Chewing sugar free gum helps stimulate saliva to clean teeth.
  • Gum with Xylitol can help prevent cavities because it is made from a type of natural sugar that the cavity-causing germs cannot use for food and thus cannot produce the acid that destroys teeth.
  • Look for the word Xylitol on packages of gum and mints.
Key Contacts
Oral Health:
(608) 243-0354

Debi DeNure, RDH
(608) 243-0499