How Long Does It Take For A Cavity To Form

Let’s face it. We all, or at least most of us are guilty of not listening to those dental care ads which only talk about why you should put that piece of candy down and go brush and floss your teeth. But have those same advertisements also defined exactly how long does it take for a cavity to form?

It has been established quite well now that sweet stuff is not the only culprit of making your teeth vulnerable and falling prey to dental caries, or as you may better know them, cavities.

There are a lot of other things that affect how long it takes for a cavity to form, your dental health, and make your teeth more prone to cavity forming.

In this article, we’ll have a comprehensive look at what might cause tooth decay and cavities, how you can prevent them, and most importantly, how long does it take for a cavity to form?

how long does it take for a cavity to form
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

1. Cavity

A cavity is the most visible form of tooth decay in its early stages. It’s basically a hole in your teeth eroding your tooth enamel. You might be wondering if the enamel is the hardest part of our body, then how it can erode.

Although that is true, the enamel is not entirely subject to a life that lasts forever. If you keep attacking it with tons of sugary and starchy foods, it will end up damaging. A cavity begins to form when the corrosion goes beyond the enamel1.

Your enamel is the deciding factor in how long it takes for a cavity to form. Later in the article, we’ll have a more comprehensive look at the entire process.

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Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

For the question of how long it takes for a cavity to form, the answer entirely depends on you. But first, let’s get a deeper understanding of how exactly a cavity forms, what causes cavities, and what are symptoms to look out for.

2. How Cavities Form and Some Risk Factors

A cavity is caused when acid levels in your mouth increase which subsequently wears down the enamel on your teeth. A few bacteria in your mouth act on dietary sugars that enter your mouth which forms acid in your mouth.

Because an acidic oral environment exists in a person’s mouth now, the enamel starts to corrode since now the acid attacks it. When the acid attacks, there is a constant tug of war between the bacteria, acid, and enamel at the same time. This tug of war is another determinant factor of how long it takes for a cavity to form.

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Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

These bacteria are on the dental plaque which is a sticky yellow substance or film which covers your tooth surface, especially on the edges. It goes on to become tartar if it remains untreated for too long. The amount of plaque on your teeth also helps decide how long it takes for a cavity to form.

The acid formed by the bacteria acting on food that contains sugar and starch sticks to the plaque and slowly starts destroying your tooth enamel.

It gets to a point where the enamel finally breaks down and a cavity is formed in your teeth.

Intake of a lot of sweet substances in your diet may cause cavities but a few other factors also make your teeth a victim of cavities and determine how long it takes for a cavity to form in your mouth.

2.1. Receding Gums

Receding Gums Surgery

Receding gums, also known as gingival recession, is a condition where the gum tissue surrounding the teeth wears away or pulls back, exposing more of the tooth or tooth root. This can lead to sensitivity, an unsightly appearance, and in severe cases, tooth loss. Receding gums can be caused by several factors, including

  • Gum disease (periodontal disease): This is the most common cause of gum recession. Bacterial infection and inflammation in the gums can damage the tissue and cause it to recede over time.
  • Aggressive tooth brushing: Brushing your teeth too hard or using a toothbrush with hard bristles can contribute to gum recession by wearing away the gum tissue.

2.2. Medications like Anti-Depressants

Antidepressants | Dental Pharmacology | Full Lecture 2023

Such medications cause a dry mouth which imbalances the amount of saliva in your mouth. And adequate saliva production in your mouth is necessary as it helps to break down food easily. Without this, food debris will get stuck in your mouth easily thus increasing the odds for plaque to form.

Some antidepressant medications, particularly tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs2) can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Reduced saliva flow can increase the risk of cavities because saliva helps to rinse away food particles and neutralize the acid in the mouth.

Saliva also contains minerals that aid in remineralizing tooth enamel. If you experience dry mouth, it’s important to address it as it can contribute to cavity formation.

2.3. Improper Dental Hygiene

This is one of the most obvious factors that make your teeth more prone to tooth decay and cavities. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once is an integral part of an effective dental routine to fight off plaque and hence, get rid of cavity-causing bacteria. You should also get routine dental cleaning to get rid of some stubborn plaque.

Not doing so will make it easier for the bacteria to accumulate in your mouth and cause harm to your mouth. Your dental hygiene largely affects how long it takes for a cavity to form.

3. How Long Does It Take For A Cavity To Form?

How Long Does It Take For A Cavity To Form ?

Cavities formation is a cumulative process. Even though they are the most visible sign of tooth decay, they are not the final stage of tooth decay.

Before knowing how long it takes for a cavity to form for different age groups, let us have a deeper look at how a cavity and tooth decay process and progress.

To give you a basic idea, you would be more prone to them if you don’t make regular visits to your dentists, listen to what your dentist tells you and don’t brush, floss, and use mouthwash or oral rinses regularly.

4. Tooth Demineralization on Tooth Enamel

Stage 1 of Tooth Decay: Demineralization

This is the first indication that you are falling into tooth decay. The demineralization process happens when the mineral layer on your tooth’s surface starts to wear off, because of this it starts to lose valuable minerals.

When this happens, usually, some white spots start to become noticeable, and brushing starts to become painful and less effective. It is easy to undo the damage here by a remineralization process and restore those valuable minerals.

5. The Layers of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay does not happen very quickly and getting a cavity overnight is not possible.

Enamel decay is an early-stage tooth decay that happens when demineralization continues to happen for a long time and the process eventually starts to corrode your enamel.

Tooth Decay / Cavities / Dental Caries

When this decay continues further, it starts to get to the dentin. Dentin 3lies just underneath your enamel which protects the pulp of the teeth, and both the dentin and pulp are very sensitive.

When the decay crosses the dentin and reaches your pulp, that’s where things get extremely painful and hard to manage. The pulp contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues. This may give you a basic understanding of how long it takes for a cavity to form.

6. Types of Cavity  Treatment

6.1. Fluoride Treatment

Tips For Applying Fluoride Varnish

In the initial stages of tooth decay, fluoride 4treatments can help restore your destroyed enamel. We’re not talking about the fluoride in your toothpaste, although that is important too.

We’re talking about a professional fluoride treatment where your dentist might use varnish, foam, or some type of gel to gently brush over, preferably with a soft-bristled toothbrush.

6.2. Filling

How Does A Dentist Fill A Cavity?

When the decay moves beyond the surface and an actual cavity is formed in your tooth, you will need a dental filling. Here, the decay is drilled out of your tooth and the dentist fills the hole with a dental filling, such as composite or dental amalgam.

6.3. Crowning

Dental Crown Procedure

When the decay moves beyond the point or reaches dentin decay, it can be filled, you may require something called crowning. It is basically a cap that is used to cover a certain part of your teeth that needs to be restored.

6.4. Root Canal

When the decay reaches the innermost part of your teeth, the pulp, the only way to get rid of the pulp decay is to get a root canal.

In a root canal, the infected pulp of the teeth is removed. The dentist might use an antibiotic medication to put in it then and then it might be filled.

6.5. Dental Implants

When nothing can be done, tooth extraction is the only way to go about things. The tooth is finally removed from its place. To prevent the teeth from shifting and changing their position, your dentist might even give you a dental implant in place of the missing tooth.

Dental Implant Procedure | Medical Animation

7. Cavities Prevention

You might have concluded by now that cavity prevention is actually less expensive and a lot less painful than the process to reverse tooth decay. In order to combat cavities, you should maintain good oral hygiene and oral health by taking certain steps.

A proper oral care routine which includes regular brushing twice a day, preferably with fluoride toothpaste, flossing at least once, and using mouthwash, preferably a fluoride mouthwash, for your night oral hygiene routine is the foremost step to get rid of cavity-causing plaque and thus prevent cavities.

Another good practice is to visit your dentist and get dental checkups at least twice a year. This way, your dentist can detect cavities early and a developing cavity can be cured early Regular dental checkups also help out a lot in the long run.

8. Conclusion

In essence, a cavity develops from tooth damage or decay and a full-blown cavity doesn’t form overnight. The time most cavities take to form varies.

The decay process may take months, and sometimes even years. Also, cavities form quicker in kids than it does in adults because kids have baby teeth with thinner enamel. There isn’t a fixed answer for how long it takes for a cavity to form. It all depends on you spotting the early signs and common factors.

To maintain good oral health and prevent cavities, follow these tips:

  • Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day.
  • Floss daily to clean between your teeth and along the gumline.
  • Limit your intake of sugary and acidic foods and drinks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups, cleanings, and early detection of any oral health issues.

Remember, it’s always best to consult with a dental professional for personalized advice and treatment regarding your specific dental health needs.


1. Can cavities heal on their own?

A. Once a cavity develops, it cannot heal on its own. The decayed portion of the tooth needs to be removed, and the tooth needs to be restored with a filling or other appropriate dental treatment.

2. Are cavities only a problem for children?

A. No, cavities can affect people of all ages. While children are often more prone to cavities due to their developing oral hygiene habits and dietary choices, adults can also develop cavities if they neglect oral care or have other risk factors.

3. Can a cavity cause complications if left untreated?

A. Yes, if a cavity is left untreated, it can lead to various complications. The decay can progress and reach the tooth pulp, causing infection, pain, and abscess formation. In severe cases, the tooth may need to be extracted.


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Proofreading by:

Dr Foram Bhuta

Dentist (B.D.S)
  1. Ramadoss, Ramya, Rajashree Padmanaban, and Balakumar Subramanian. “Role of bioglass in enamel remineralization: Existing strategies and future prospects—A narrative review.” Journal of Biomedical Materials Research Part B: Applied Biomaterials 110.1 (2022): 45-66. ↩︎
  2. Murphy, Susannah E., et al. “The knowns and unknowns of SSRI treatment in young people with depression and anxiety: efficacy, predictors, and mechanisms of action.” The Lancet Psychiatry 8.9 (2021): 824-835. ↩︎
  3. Liu, Xiu-Xin, et al. “Pathogenesis, diagnosis and management of dentin hypersensitivity: an evidence-based overview for dental practitioners.” BMC oral health 20 (2020): 1-10. ↩︎
  4. Johnston, Nichole R., and Scott A. Strobel. “Principles of fluoride toxicity and the cellular response: a review.” Archives of toxicology 94.4 (2020): 1051-1069. ↩︎

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