3 Types of Cavities and How to Fix Them

Your Personal Guide to Fighting Tooth Decay

Cavities aren’t just annoying, they’re a very serious problem that should be solved as quickly as possible. When you suspect a cavity, it’s important to know what type of cavity it is, so it can be treated effectively. Here are the three types of cavities, what causes them, and the possible treatment options that can get you fast relief.


What Is a Cavity?

A cavity (also called tooth decay or caries) is a hole in your tooth. It’s an opening on the hard surface of your enamel that constantly expands unless it’s treated. The bigger hole the cavity causes, the more layers of your tooth are affected.

This permanently damaged area isn’t painless either. An untreated cavity can result in severe pain and further infection. Ultimately, an ignored cavity can lead to the loss of your tooth.

There are various reasons why cavities develop. Most commonly, it’s a lack of dental hygiene. But bacteria in your mouth, trauma to your teeth, and sipping sugary drinks can also affect the frequency and severity of the cavities that form.

And they’re common. More than 90% of American adults have cavities. And over a quarter of the population has some form of untreated tooth decay.

The Three Types of Cavities

The type of cavity depends on the location of the hole on the tooth. Based on where a cavity can form, there are three types of cavities:

  1. Pit and fissure cavities
  2. Smooth surface cavities
  3. Root cavities

1. Pit and Fissure Cavities

You'll find pit and fissure cavities on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. They are most common on the back teeth. Pit and fissure cavities often form because of food particles or plaque that gets stuck in the grooves and crevices on the top of the teeth.

Stuck food and plaque combined with poor dental hygiene often lead to a pit and fissure cavity.

If caught early, these types of cavities are easily treated. Luckily, fluoride toothpaste can get rid of an early pit and fissure cavity quickly. However, once the cavity reaches the dentin a dentist must remove the decay before treating the cavity.

A small or medium cavity requires fillings or composites. And a large pit and fissure cavity will most likely need a crown. Both can be provided by your local dentist.

2. Smooth Surface Cavities

Smooth-surface cavities occur on the flat exterior surface of the teeth. They are most commonly found on the teeth at the sides of the mouth. These are some of the slowest-growing cavities and are also the least common.

Just like pit and fissure cavities, smooth surface cavities also occur when people don’t brush correctly or regularly. 

Smooth-surface cavities are the easiest for dentists to treat. Fluoride-rich toothpaste and regular dental flossing using the correct technique should be enough to restore your oral health.

Keep in mind, it takes some time for tooth decay to eat through the enamel on the teeth's smooth surfaces. That’s where the enamel is thickest. However, if your cavity progresses this far, you’ll need to go to the dentist for a filling.

3. Root Cavities

Root cavities are located on the surface of the roots of the teeth. They most often occur among older adults. This is also the demographic most likely to have receding gums and other gum disorders.

When gums recede, the roots are left exposed. That leaves them vulnerable to tooth decay. This is because they aren't covered in the same hard, protective enamel that teeth have.

Removing the decay is the first step in treating root cavities. The cavity is then replaced with a filling or crown. In severe cases, when the decay has spread to the tooth's pulp, root canal treatment may be advised.

The damage root cavities cause spreads quickly because the cementum that covers a tooth's root isn't as tough as enamel. That's why it's important to fix a root cavity as soon as it's detected.

How Do Dentists Fix Cavities?

When it comes to these types of cavities, it’s best to leave their treatment to a professional. If you suspect you have a cavity, you should visit your local dentist. Your dentist will examine the damage to your tooth and identify the type of cavity.

Once your dentist determines the type of cavity you have, they’ll decide on the most appropriate treatment to counter the negative effects of the cavity. The treatment varies based on the severity and size of the hole in your tooth.

Mild Cavity

When a cavity is barely a hole in your tooth, it’s easy to fix. They usually resolve themselves with fluoride treatments, such as toothpaste, gels, varnishes, or fluoride-enriched water.

Small to Medium Cavity

Once the cavity eats through the dentin, your dentist needs to intervene. They will remove the decayed part of the tooth and replace it with a dental filling.

Large Cavity

If a cavity is untreated for a longer time, the size of the hole grows. Larger cavities can’t be treated with simple filling anymore. Both smooth surface and pit and fissure type cavities would need a crown at this point.

Severe Cavity

Since your roots don’t contain enamel, a root cavity can turn into a severe cavity rapidly. Once the decay spread to the pulp, your dentist will most likely suggest a root canal treatment. 

Tooth Extraction for Cavities

Your dentist will do everything in their power to save your tooth. But, any type of cavity that’s left untreated for a long period of time has the same fate. The tooth will need to be pulled. Your dentist will ultimately make the decision as a last resort. Either way, if you suspect you have a cavity, it’s best not to delay a dental exam.


Can You Reverse a Cavity?

A cavity by definition is permanent damage to the tooth. But, it’s a process. If you catch a cavity very early, your enamel can still remineralize itself.

However, if a cavity does form deeper, it becomes irreparably damaged. At that point, you can’t reverse it. Instead, your only option is to treat it.

That’s why it’s best to do everything possible to prevent cavities. Luckily, even the simplest efforts can prevent tooth decay effectively.

What Can You Do to Prevent These Types of Cavities?

Although treating cavities is relatively simple when they are caught early, prevention is always better than a cure. Here are some ways you can prevent cavities from forming.

1. Brush Regularly

Brushing your teeth every day is the basis of dental hygiene. Make sure you know all the correct techniques and use them regularly.

2. Use Fluoride-Rich Toothpaste

Fluoride strengthens your enamel. If you’re prone to cavities, combining your regular tooth brushing with fluoride-rich toothpaste could be very beneficial.  

3. Floss Well

Flossing removes harmful bacteria and food stuck between your teeth. This reduces the effects of a smooth surface cavity could have. Just be sure that you’re flossing correctly.

4. Stay Hydrated

When your mouth is dry, you don’t have enough saliva to keep your teeth clean and strengthen your enamel. Bacteria flourishes and cavities form easily. 


5. Avoid Sugar

Sugary food and drinks are the most common reasons for cavities. If you reduce the amount of sugar you consume, you give your teeth a better fighting chance too.

6. Go to the Dentist Regularly

When you visit a dentist for regular checkups, they can make sure you don’t have cavities. Or they can catch them early on, so you won’t need more intrusive treatments.

Most importantly, never delay getting treatment for a cavity. As soon as you suspect that you may have a cavity, seek out a dentist. The faster you get your cavity treated, the less damage it will cause.

Often you won't feel any pain when your cavity is small. That’s why you shouldn't wait for discomfort to book your next dental appointment. 

Save Money on Your Cavity Treatment

On average, treating a cavity costs between $100 and $250. In addition, you'll need to spend money on your oral exam, cleaning, and possibly x-rays. This list of expenses is why the cost of a filling can range from $100 - $4000. Yikes.

That’s a lot.

But, you can save money on your cavity treatment with the dental card that can instantly save you 15% - 50% in most instances on dental procedures!

With a Carefree Dental Discount Card, you can save on oral exams, x-rays, and fillings. Don’t put off going to the dentist any longer. Keep your teeth cavity-free by booking an appointment with a participating dentist today. And keep more money in your wallet after your appointment with the Carefree Dental Discount Card!

The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

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