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Tooth decay is one of the most common oral problems in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 percent of adults between 20 and 64 had tooth decay just three years ago, and nearly one third of them carried it untreated. A prime location for tooth decay to occur is in the pits and fissures of your teeth.

Pits and Fissures

Pits and fissures are the deep grooves that make up the chewing surfaces of your teeth. These grooves are found on both your premolars and molars, though a pit and fissure cavity is usually deeper on the molars than on the premolars.

Their Formation

Although pits and fissures help you to chew, food can still get stuck in these grooves. Plaque, a bacterial film that forms on your teeth, can also accumulate here if not cleaned regularly. It’s hard to reach these areas with your toothbrush, so food and plaque can remain in place and lead to cavity formation.

The bacteria in your plaque feeds on sugars from foods and drinks, and when it does, it produces acids that attack your protective tooth enamel. Over time, your enamel wears down and allows tooth decay to set in.

How They’re Prevented

Pit and fissure cavity prevention can start right at home. Make sure to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each session, especially after large or otherwise sugary meals. When you brush, pay attention to the surfaces of every tooth, including the chewing surfaces of your back teeth where pits and fissures are most prevalent.

Your dentist can also help you prevent pit and fissure cavities by curbing the initial decay. Alongside basic scalings, he or she may apply protective material known as a dental sealant to your premolars and molars. A dental sealant is a white or clear plastic coating that fills in your pits and fissures and prevents plaque and food from getting inside. This product is usually applied to children’s teeth as soon as their permanent teeth erupt – between the ages of six and 12 – but it can also be applied to adult teeth if your dentist determines that you need it.

How They’re Treated

If your pit and fissure cavity is found early, when the decay is limited to the enamel, your dentist may recommend repairing the white spot lesion with a toothpaste such as Colgate® Enamel Health Whitening. This toothpaste helps to replenish the calcium that is naturally present in your tooth enamel.

If the cavity reaches the dentin, it will need to be repaired with similar dental restorations such as fillings , composites or crowns. Fillings and composites are used for areas of smaller and medium decay, whereas crowns are used to repair larger tooth decay that compromises the structure of the tooth itself.

Pit and fissure cavities may be harder to reach, but they can be prevented all the same with a good oral hygiene routine and the help of your dentist by coming for 6-month cleaning appointments and check-ups.