6 Myths About Tooth Cavities

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Diana Rodriguez on February 27, 2021
  • Taking chewing gum
    Get the facts about tooth cavities.
    You know a cavity is bad news from your dentist. But do you really understand the dangers of a tooth cavity—or how you got it? Cavities are permanent holes that form in the teeth when bacteria eat away at the layers of your teeth. For a healthier mouth and a brighter smile, it helps to know the difference between fact and fiction about cavities and how to prevent tooth decay. Here's the truth about common myths.
  • Candy shop
    Myth #1: Sugary sodas and sweets are the only foods that cause cavities.
    Yes, sugar can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Bacteria in your mouth break sugars down into acids, which attack your teeth. However, there are other foods you need to worry about, too. Sticky foods let bacteria linger on your teeth, leading to tooth decay. Food and drinks high in acid, even sugar-free sodas, contribute to tooth decay, too. The acid can destroy the enamel coating that normally protects your teeth. Frequent snacking during the day also increases bacteria and acids on your teeth. Stick to eating just at mealtime, and drink water in between.
  • woman smiling at dental appointment
    Myth #2: Fill it and forget it.
    You should never ignore a cavity. Cavities need treatment, which involves your dentist filling in the hole. Without fillings, you may have extreme pain, lose your tooth, and even develop serious infections. It's still important to take care of your teeth after a tooth filling. Bacteria keep building up around tooth fillings. Sometimes fillings crack or break down. A tooth with a filling can even decay more without proper care. Brush and floss carefully and get regular checkups.
  • Woman brushing teeth
    Myth #3: Regular brushing is enough to prevent cavities.
    Brushing is essential to protect your teeth from decay. It's not enough on its own, though. You also need to avoid foods and drinks high in sugar and acid, especially sticky foods and hard candy you suck on for a long time because both let sugar coat your teeth. It's also important to floss your teeth every day. This loosens bacteria and food particles that get stuck between teeth. Using a fluoride rinse each day also helps prevent cavities.
  • Man with gum
    Myth #4: Gum is bad for my teeth.
    Gum that contains sugar contributes to cavities. However, sugar-free gum actually protects your teeth. Chewing sugar-free gum helps your mouth make more saliva. Saliva washes away the bacteria and acid in your mouth. This helps protect your teeth from tooth decay and makes you less likely to get cavities. Chew sugar-free gum after meals for a healthier mouth.
  • Woman flossing
    Myth #5: My teeth don't hurt, so I don't have a cavity.
    Cavities don't always cause pain, especially when they're first forming. The early stages of tooth decay often cause no symptoms at all. As the hole in your tooth grows larger, you'll likely experience pain and sensitivity to hot and cold. The tooth might become discolored and develop pits. Regular dental visits help spot the early signs of decay and prevent cavities from growing.
  • Toothy grin
    Myth #6: Cavities in baby teeth don't matter.
    Healthy baby teeth mean healthy permanent teeth. Decay in baby teeth may mean a child's teeth fall out before permanent teeth are ready to come in. That can lead to the teeth not lining up right and to teeth that move around. This can keep healthy permanent teeth from growing in the right spot. Cavities in baby teeth also can be painful and cause serious infection in children. You're never too young to learn the importance of healthy teeth and the right way to care for them.
6 Myths About Tooth Cavities
  1. Cavities/Tooth Decay. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/basics/definition/con-20030076
  2. Decay. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/decay
  3. How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Your Baby. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/teething-tooth-care/Pages/How-to-Prevent-Tooth-Decay-in-Your-Baby.aspx  
  4. Sugar-Free Chewing Gums to Help Prevent-Reduce Cavities. American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/Files/guide_sugarfree_chewinggums.ashx
  5. Tooth Decay. American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/ADA_PatientSmart_Tooth_Decay.pdf?la=en 
  6. Tooth Decay Process: How to Reverse it and Avoid a Cavity. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm 
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2021 Feb 27
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.