Also known as tooth decay, a cavity is the deterioration of the tooth structure caused by acids in bacterial plaque.  The decay can damage both the dentin (the inner part of a tooth) and the enamel (the outer portion of a tooth).  The process of decay starts when foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars) are left on the teeth.  The bacteria in plaque consume the food and produce acid as a byproduct.  The acid first erodes the enamel, allowing the bacteria to attack the dentin inside the tooth.

When bacteria penetrate sufficiently deeply inside a tooth, sensitivity and pain can result.  If detected and treated early, decay will not destroy a large amount of tooth structure and usually is not painful.  If not detected early, and allowed to progress, the bacterial invasion can reach the dental pulp, resulting in a painful abscess.

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