What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is the destruction of the hard tissues of the tooth due to the influence of acids made by bacteria. It is also known as dental cavities and dental caries.

Answers To Common Questions About Tooth Decay
Tooth Decay

What are the causes of tooth decay?

The leading cause of tooth decay is bacteria. A thin layer of bacteria also known as a biofilm or dental plaque keeps forming on the tooth. These bacteria survive on the food and sugars that we eat.These bacteria make acids that attack our tooth for almost twenty minutes after we eat, which eventually destroys our tooth, leading to tooth decay.

What are the symptoms of tooth decay?

Tooth decay leads to tooth cavity which is a hole in the tooth. Once the cavity occurs in the tooth other symptoms of tooth decay follow, like:

  • A toothache or tooth pain. It is the most prevalent reason for people to seek treatment from a dentist.
  • Tooth decay can lead to swelling near the gums. It can be because of an abscessed tooth which is a sign of severe damage.
  • Black or brown holes or spots can be seen on the enamel of the tooth.
  • Increased sensitivity is also a sign of tooth decay. The decayed tooth becomes sensitive when it comes in contact with hot or cold food or drink.
  • Difficulty and pain in eating or chewing food are seen.
  • Bad breath is a common problem faced by people who have a decayed tooth.
  • Sometimes a tooth may break or fracture while eating due to internal tooth decay.
  • People develop a bad taste in their mouth due to tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay may lead to sry infections in the gum.

What are the factors that can lead to tooth decay?

Specific factors that accelerate tooth decay are:

  • If we do not brush and floss our teeth regularly, food gets stuck between our teeth which leads to tooth decay.
  • If we eat food high in sugar and carbohydrates, the bacteria in our mouth feed on this food stuck to our teeth, making acids that erode our tooth’s enamel and lead to tooth decay.
  • Inadequate saliva in the mouth can lead to tooth decay. Saliva not only washes away food from our mouth but it also checks the growth of bacteria in our Oral cavity and protects our teeth. People with xerostomia and Sjogren disease are most likely to have tooth decay because they have a dry mouth.
  • Diabetic patients are also likely to have tooth decay.
  • Smokers and passive smokers are also likely to have tooth decay because cigarettes smoke has nicotine which affects oral health negatively.
  • Alcohol abuse can also be a cause of tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay is also seen in toddlers and children who sleep while feeding on breast milk or formula milk. This last drink of milk at night does not get washed away encouraging the bacteria in the mouth to feed on it. This lead to milk bottle carries.

When to see a dentist for tooth decay?

Regular dental checkups, irrespective of tooth problem, is advised by dentists. Checkups allow a dentist to check for tooth decay before the symptoms and toothache begin to show up. In case of tooth decay, the dentist will examine the tooth with a mirror and a pointed instrument. An X-ray is also taken to confirm tooth decay and the extent of damage caused by it. It helps the dentist to plan the process for the treatment of tooth decay.

What are the treatments offered for tooth decay?

The treatment for decay depends on its severity. Once the decay has destroyed the enamel of the tooth, the following procedures are advised:

  • Fillings: The debris of the decayed tooth is removed, and the cavity is filled with a dental material to restore the tooth.
  • Dental crown:  When the tooth is critically damaged or broken due to tooth decay, a dental crown is used to repair and replace the damage.
  • Root Canal Therapy: When the tooth decay is so severe that it infects the tooth pulp, then the root canal therapy is suggested to save the tooth. In this treatment, the infected tooth pulp is removed, and the cavity is filled with dental filling, the tooth is then revived with a dental crown.
  • Tooth extraction: Sometimes the tooth is so severely damaged that its removal or extraction is the only option left to stop the pain. The dentist can replace the tooth with a bridge or an implant.

How can we prevent tooth decay?

Dr. Coleen Bullard, a Ypsilanti dentist, is of opinion that the best way to prevent tooth decay is to brush and floss regularly using the correct techniques so that food does not get stuck between our teeth. Using a good fluoride toothpaste is advised to make our teeth stronger. It is also essential to limit the consumption of sugary food and rinsing of mouth after each meal can be a good idea.


  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tooth_decay
  2. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/decay
  3. http://comprehensivedentistry.net/composite-fillings-tooth-colored-fillings/

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