Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Tooth decay or cavities is a problem that children and adults can face any time in their life. If you neglect your dental hygiene, you need to face intense embarrassment. Oral health has a direct connection to your mental health. Cavities can cause permanent damage on the teeth surface leading to the appearance of tiny holes or openings. The problem also referred to as caries can occur due to the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth. Improper cleaning, bad diet, and frequent consumption of sugary foods can lead to the problem. Bad oral health can affect your self-confidence levels as no one wants to talk to due to the bad breath. It damages your personal value and makes you depressed. Therefore, you need to maintain good oral health that will prevent caries and other problem.

What Is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay or cavities is one of the most common problems in the world. It is the health problem that occurs commonly in children, teenagers, as well as older adults. Even infants who have teeth can get affected by cavities. The bacterial action along the outer surface of the teeth can result in caries. The damage to the enamel can affect deeper layers of the teeth without proper treatment. It can lead to toothache, infection, and finally loss of a tooth. It is essential to have good dental hygiene with regular brushing as well as flossing. The good habits can protect your teeth against decay and ultimately loss of the teeth.

Tooth Decay

Symptoms Of Tooth Decay

You can experience diverse signs and symptoms of tooth decay depending on the location and severity of the problem. When cavities start to form on the tooth, you may never see any symptoms. Once the decays get larger, it can trigger different signs like:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Spontaneous pain without any apparent cause (toothache)
  • Sensitivity or mild pain when eating or drinking something cold/hot/sweet
  • Visible pits or holes in your teeth
  • Black/brown/white staining on the surface of your tooth
  • Pain while chewing or biting down food

Since you may never know the cavity formation, you need to schedule frequent dental checkups. The regular checkups and cleanings can help you prevent dental problems. It makes your mouth feel fine. It is essential to get advice from your dentist when you experience mouth pain or toothache. So, getting medical help at the right time can prevent complications.

Causes Of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay does not occur overnight. It is a slow process that occurs over a time period. Do you wish to know how it develops? Then, read below as it explains the scenario of cavities:

Plaque Formation

Dental plaque is the thin film that coats your teeth. It can affect the teeth when you eat a lot of sugar as well as starches and fail to clean it properly from your teeth. The sticky film coating occurs when the bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar and starch left on the teeth due to improper cleaning. It results in the plaque formation that stays on the teeth surface and hardens. The hardened plaque under or above the gum line results in calculus (tartar). The tartar makes it difficult to clear the plaque as it creates a shield for the mouth bacteria.

Plaque Attacks

Plaque Attacks

The plaque has acids in it, which removes the minerals found in your enamel (the hard outer layer of the tooth). The erosion results in the development of holes or tiny opening in the enamel. It is the first stage in the cavity formation. After wearing the enamel, the bacteria and acid in your mouth can reach the dentin (the layer of your teeth). The layers are soft compared to enamel. Therefore, it cannot resist acid for a long time. Dentin contains tiny tubes that connect to the tooth nerve directly. Therefore, the plaque attack can reach the nerve of the tooth leading to sensitivity.

Tooth Destruction

The plaque attack can worsen the tooth decay as the bacteria as well acid continues to march towards the deeper surface. So, it moves to the pulp (inner tooth material). The pulp contains nerves and blood vessels. Due to the bacterial attack, the pulp becomes swollen. It also causes irritation and pain. The swelling causes the nerves to become pinched resulting in agony. So, the problem can cause you severe distress as it can even extend outside. The pain can continue to spread from the tooth root to your bone.

Risk Factors Associated With Tooth Decay

Every individual with teeth has a high risk of getting caries or cavities. But, certain factors increase the risk of the problem. So, the risk factors associated with tooth decay are:

Location Of The Tooth

The location plays a significant part in the decaying process. In most cases, it occurs in the molars and premolars (back teeth). It is due to the fact that the teeth at the location have multiple roots, a lot of grooves, pits, and crannies. So, it can collect food particles. Since the back of the teeth is hard to reach while brushing, it becomes difficult to keep it clean compared to front teeth. Therefore, it becomes the fertile ground for the bacteria to grow and attack the teeth.

Consumption Of Certain Foods And Drinks

Some food items tend to cling to your teeth for a long duration of time. It becomes impossible to wash it away using your saliva. Therefore, when you consume the following food items regularly, you become prone to cavities:

  • Honey
  • Ice cream
  • Milk
  • Soda
  • Sugar
  • Cake
  • Dried fruit
  • Cookies
  • Mints
  • Dry Cereal
  • Hard Candy
  • Chips

You need to brush your teeth after consuming such food items. Else, you can suffer from tooth decay.

Frequent Snacking/Sipping

Eating snacks or drinking sugary beverages can trigger more acid production. It is because you give the bacteria in the mouth more fuel to produce the acid. It can attack the teeth and wear the enamel. Therefore, try not to sip sodas or other acidic drinks that can produce more acid to bath the teeth.

Bedtime Infant Feeding

When you feed the infants with formula, milk, juice or drinks containing sugar, you make them prone to tooth decay. The beverages remain on the teeth for several hours. So, it results in the growth of decay-causing bacteria. The problem is referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. So, toddlers mostly encounter the problem when they wander around drinking beverages in a sippy cup.

Inadequate Brushing

If you don’t clean your teeth soon after eating and drinking, plaque forms quickly and the first stages of decay can begin.

Insufficient Fluoride

Fluoride is essential to maintain dental health. It is the naturally occurring mineral, which prevents cavity formation. It has the potential to reverse earlier stages of tooth damage. In many countries, fluoride is added to the public water supply. It is also found in mouth rinses and toothpaste. So, you can use the toothpaste and mouthwash containing fluoride to ensure dental health.

Age Factor

Young children and old people can suffer from caries. It is more common in aged people. It is due to the fact that the gums can recede and teeth enamel wears down as age progresses. It makes the teeth vulnerable to root decay. The use of medications can also reduce saliva flow, which increases the risk of tooth decay.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth as the name suggests indicates the absence or lack of saliva. It can cause rotten tooth as food and plaque remain on the teeth surface. In normal cases, saliva flushes out the bacteria from the teeth. Your saliva has substances that help counter acid attack on the teeth. In some cases, certain medical conditions, certain chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy on your neck or head can reduce saliva production. So, it increases the risk of cavities.

Worn Dental Devices/Fillings

If you use dental devices or fillings, then you need to know it can weaken over the years. Therefore, it starts breaking down or develop rough edges. It can result in plaque buildup on the teeth surface. It becomes harder to remove the plaque from the teeth surface. It can result in the improper fitting of the dental devices and subsequently allowing the decay to begin under it.


GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or heartburn can cause your stomach acid to flow in your mouth (also known as reflux). Therefore, it causes significant erosion of enamel and subsequent tooth decay. The wearing of enamel results in the exposure of dentin to bacterial attack. It can result in decaying of tooth. See your dentist check if gastric reflux triggers the enamel loss.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia can cause tooth erosion and tooth decay. It is due to the fact that repeating vomiting can cause stomach acid to wash over the teeth. People with eating disorders purge, which can cause stomach acid to come in contact with the teeth. So, it begins dissolving the teeth enamel. The disorder can also interfere with the production saliva in your mouth.

Complications Due To Tooth Decay

Cavities and subsequent decaying of the tooth occur commonly. Therefore, you may not take it seriously. When a child gets cavities in their baby teeth, you ignore it. You think since it is temporary teeth, it does not have any impact on the permanent teeth. You are wrong! Cavities have long-lasting complication when you ignore them completely. Therefore, you need to seek advice from your dentist to sort out the issue as early as possible. Else, you can observe complications like:

  • Pain
  • Tooth Abscess
  • Swelling around the teeth
  • Pus
  • Damaged/Broken teeth
  • Chewing problems
  • Positioning shifts of teeth in children after losing a temporary tooth

The serious complications of tooth decay include:

  • Excess pain that interferes with everyday activities
  • Weight loss due to trouble eating/chewing the food
  • Lack of nutrition due to insufficient food consumption
  • Losing permanent teeth affecting the appearance, self-esteem, and self-confidence
  • The occurrence of tooth abscess (bacterial infection triggering a pocket of pus) leading to life-threatening infections or serious complications

Diagnosing Tooth Decay

When you suffer from the symptoms of rotten teeth, visit your dentist. Since you may not suffer from the signs during the early stages of cavities, you can make regular appointments with the dentist to evaluate dental health. Your dentist detects tooth decay by the following diagnostic methods:

  • Assessment of your teeth by examining your mouth and teeth. It also includes asking about the sensitivity and pain you can experience.
  • Using dental instruments, the dentist checks for soft areas.
  • Suggest taking dental x-rays to reveal the severity of cavities and decay.

Treatment To Overcome Tooth Decay

Regular checkups can identify dental conditions, including cavities as early as possible. Therefore, you can get a remedy for the problem before it troubles you. It also avoids the problem to escalate into a serious complication. It is essential to seek medical help as early as possible to have better chances of reversing the condition. When you seek treatment early, you can reverse the problem. Else, it can progress into a serious condition that results in pain. So, depending on the dental issue, you need apt treatment:

Fluoride Treatments

Fluoride Treatments

It is the ideal treatment for initial stages of cavities. So, the fluoride treatment can reverse the problem in the starting stage. It restores the tooth enamel and stops the decaying of teeth. The professional fluoride treatment has more fluoride compared to the amount in your toothpaste or mouthwash. Your dentist offers the treatment in the form of varnish, foam, gel or liquid. You have to apply it on your teeth directly or use a tray that fits over your teeth.

Dental Fillings

It is also known as restorations. Your doctor can suggest it as the main treatment option when the tooth decay progresses beyond the early stages. So, your tooth is sealed with fillings made of various materials. The filling used include:

  • Porcelain amalgam
  • Dental amalgam
  • Tooth-colored composite resins


For extensive decay, you need a crown. Crown is the customized covering that replaces the natural crown of your tooth. It fits perfectly and seals it. Your dentist drills all the decayed area of the tooth and fits with the crown. You can opt from gold, resin, high-strength porcelain, porcelain fused metal, or other materials.

Root Canals

Root Canals

It is suggested by your dentist when the decay reaches the pulp (inner material of your tooth). Your dentist opts for the treatment if other treatments will not work. It can repair and save infected or badly damaged tooth without extracting it. First, the dentist removes the diseased pulp. Then, to clear any infection, your doctor applies medication around the surrounding area. The infected pulp is finally replaced with a filling.

Tooth Extractions

Tooth Extractions

Severe tooth decay needs extraction as no methods can restore it. Therefore, it needs removal as it can affect other teeth. Since extracting the affecting tooth can leave a gap, you need to get a dental implant or bridge. If you do not replace the missing tooth, then it can cause other teeth to shift.

Preventing Tooth Decay

It one of the problems that you can prevent effectively by maintaining good oral hygiene. With good dental hygiene, you can prevent teeth cavities and decay of the tooth. You can talk to your dentist about the steps you need to take to ensure good dental health. You can also follow the steps suggested below to prevent cavities:

Brush After Eating

You need to brush after eating or drinking. It will flush out the food particles and prevent the accumulation of bacteria. Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth. For better results, brush twice a day daily. In most cases, it is ideal to brush after having your meals.

Interdental Cleaner

Brushing may not remove all the food particles in the mouth. Some food particles may stay between the teeth, which your brush cannot clean. Therefore, use interdental cleaners or floss to clean the particles stuck between the teeth.

Use Mouth Wash

Rinsing your mouth with fluoride-rich mouthwash can help you prevent cavities. Your doctor suggests using the mouthwash if you have a high risk of developing caries.

Visit The Dentist

You need to seek professional assistance to avoid dental problems. Therefore, make appointments with your dentist for professional teeth cleanings as well as regular oral exams. It will help you spot problems early and avoid them completely. Your doctor recommends a schedule that suits you well.

Use Dental Sealants

To prevent tooth decay in children, you can ask the dentist about dental sealants. It is the protective plastic coating covering the surface you chew. Therefore, the dental sealants seal the crannies and grooves. It protects the areas from collecting food particles. So, the tooth enamel remains safe from plaque and acid. Children can avoid rotten teeth for several years as it lasts for some time. It needs checking regularly to know when it needs replacement.

Avoid Frequent Snacking And Sipping

When you eat or drink beverages, it causes the particles to deposit on the teeth surface. It helps the bacteria to produce acid that can cause erosion of the tooth enamel. Therefore, avoid frequent snacking as well as sipping, which can trigger a bacterial attack on teeth.

Consume Healthy Diet

You need to consume a diet to strengthen teeth and overall body. Avoid food substances, which deposits in the grooves as well as pits of your teeth. If you consume such foods, then brush after the meal. Include more fruits and vegetables as they can increase saliva production. You can also consume unsweetened tea/coffee and sugar-free gums. Therefore, such drinks can wash away food particles and prevent acid production.

Think About Fluoride Treatment

You can talk to your doctor about periodic fluoride treatments if you lack the minerals. It is ideal for people who never get enough fluoride from water or other sources. Individuals with a high risk of tooth decay can opt for the treatment to replenish the fluoride levels. Your dentist can recommend using a customized tray that can fit your teeth. It is easier to apply prescription fluoride with the tray. Therefore, talk to your dentist about the option available.

Check With Your Dentist About Antibacterial Treatments

Some people are more prone to decaying of tooth. It can trigger due to some underlying medical condition. In such cases, your dentists prescribe an antibacterial mouthwash to limit the bacterial presence in the mouth.

Combined Treatments

You try combining treatments for better effect. So, you can chew xylitol-based gum while using an antibacterial rinse and prescription fluoride. The combined treatment can reduce the risk of caries.


Fortunately, you can prevent tooth decay with effective measures. You need to visit your dentist for getting regular checkups and advice to overcome the problem. Maintain your pearly whites to enhance your appeal and self-confidence. It will also avoid pain and other distress associated with the problem. So, take care to avoid rotten teeth effectively from your life.

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