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  • Danielle Godley

What causes cavities and white spots?

Updated: Apr 26

Magnifying glass over dental teeth model
Magnifying glass over dental teeth model

You probably know that orthodontic treatment offers several dental and health benefits. However, one thing to keep in mind is that any sort of braces or appliances on your teeth creates a greater risk for developing cavities.

How do cavities form in the first place? Do braces cause cavities? Let’s discuss where cavities come from and how they form.

There are 4 key things needed to create a dental cavity:

1) A TOOTH! You can’t have a cavity without a tooth. However, not all teeth are the same. Are your teeth crowded and it’s harder for your toothbrush and floss to clean all the surfaces? Did your enamel form correctly during development (hypoplastic enamel)? Is the anatomy of your tooth correct or do you have deep grooves? Do you have braces or an appliance that makes it harder for your toothbrush to reach all of the nooks and crannies? All of these things play a role in determining someone’s risk for tooth decay (cavities).

2) BACTERIA. Yep, that’s right! Tooth decay is caused by bacteria (streptococcus mutans) in your mouth that produce acid on your teeth. However, some people have more of this type of bacteria in their mouth than others. Have you ever heard someone say, “I have bad teeth from my mom or dad?" Well, there is some truth to that. You were not born with these bacteria in your mouth. You inherit them from transmission, such as, mother to baby or caregiver to baby. In other words, who kissed you as a baby, who let you try food off their spoon first, who “cleaned” your pacifier by putting it into their mouth and giving it back to you? So, while some people have more of this cavity-causing bacteria living in their mouth, others might have different strains of bacteria in their mouth that tend to cause calculus build-up or staining rather than cavities.

3) FOOD SOURCE. Anything you eat is source of food for bacteria in your mouth, however, the cavity-causing bacteria thrive when they consume sugar. Most people are aware that sugary, sticky foods and drinks such as candy, soda, and juice can cause cavities quickly. But most are unaware of the SNEAKY sticky foods such as goldfish crackers, dried cereal, pretzels, chips, crackers, and cookies that can also cause cavities fast. Think about the last time you had a handful of crackers. The crackers were not sticky when you got them out of the box, but as soon as you started chewing on them, they stick to your teeth. Most parents also forget that fermentable carbohydrates break down into sugar. A diet consisting of high carbohydrate foods can lead to a high tooth decay rate.

4) TIME. It only takes 12 hours for the acid produced from bacteria to start to break down tooth enamel. That is why it is so important to brush your teeth twice a day, or every 12 hours. Another contributor to time is how often you are snacking. Every time you eat a sugary treat, including carbohydrate treats, the pH in your mouth lowers and becomes more acidic. If you are constantly lowering your pH by frequently snacking, then the time it would take the acid produced by the bacteria would be reduced.

Do braces cause cavities?

No. Braces themselves do not cause cavities. However, braces do give the bacteria in your mouth more places to attach and hide. If oral hygiene (brushing/flossing) is not excellent during treatment, cavities begin to form initially as "white spots" or white marks on teeth. These spots occur when the bacteria in your mouth create acid which dissolves tooth enamel, creating a white scar on the tooth where it has become decalcified.


Although it requires 4 things (tooth, bacteria, food, and time) to create a cavity, you have control over a few of these: Food and Time. You can also control your hygiene routine and visits to the dentist for check-ups and fluoride application. A good brushing and flossing routine can help prevent, stop, and sometimes even reverse beginning cavities before they grow.


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