What is Tooth Decay, Causes and symptoms of Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay

  • Posted on- Aug 10, 2015
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Like any other part of the body, our teeth are also susceptible to a number of problems. One of the most common among them is tooth decay. The main causes for this can be attributed to the food that we eat and the bacteria that we harbour in our mouth. Ruling out either of them to prevent this condition is not possible. Hence, maintaining good oral hygiene is very important. What makes dental care so important is the fact that tooth decay is a slow process. It starts with small caries in teeth, and may take years before large cavities that expose the nerves and cause pain, are formed. It can be detected early or at a later stage. Depending upon the extent of damage, there are a number of treatment options that a dentist may opt for.

Causes of tooth decay

Food that we eat and bacteria is the culprit behind this tooth condition. Foods rich in carbohydrates have high content of starch that tend to stay back on teeth, especially in between the teeth and in cavities. This provides food for bacteria that grow in these cavities. Improper cleaning of teeth after meals may also leave bits of food in between. Bacteria thrive in these food bits and form plaques. The acids released by the hordes of bacteria in plaques attack the outermost layer of teeth, the enamel. As the enamel is destroyed, the bacteria reach deeper layers of teeth causing greater damage. This problem is quite common in children due to their consumption of sugar-rich foods.


For those who do not go for regular dental check-ups, this problem may be detected only after one feels a toothache. However, the common symptoms that one should watch out are:

  • Bad breath
  • Foul taste in the mouth
  • Toothache (due to infection or irritation of the tooth pulp)
  • Pain while chewing food, brushing teeth, eating hot or cold food or drinks or breathing in cold air
  • Holes or pits (cavities) in teeth

In case of severity, pus-filled sacs may be formed at the base of the teeth, in the bone, that is accompanied with swollen glands and jaws, fever, and acute pain.


Your dentist will perform a dental check up to see if it's a case of tooth decay. In case it is, he would also ascertain the severity of the damage. The various treatment options available are as follows:

  • Fluoride Treatment: Toothpastes and mouth rinses already have some amount of fluoride in them, as this mineral is important for dental health. Fluoride prevents cavities and helps teeth to repair themselves. In case the tooth decay is in the initial stages, fluoride treatment is what dentists resort to. Professional fluoride treatment involves the dentist applying a liquid, gel, or foam to the affected tooth.
  • Fillings: If the rotting has penetrated deeper than the enamel, one has to go for tooth filling. In the cavity filling procedure, the affected portion of the teeth is removed, and filled with a filling material that restores the shape of the teeth. The filling could be composite resins, silver amalgam, gold, or ceramics.
  • Crowns: In case of extensive deterioration, doing multiple fillings will weaken the tooth. In such case, crowns are used. The damaged area of the tooth is removed, treated, and a crown or a covering jacket is put over the remaining teeth. The crowns are usually made of gold or porcelain.
  • Root Canal Treatment: In case of a severe problem in which even the nerves get affected, root canal treatment is required. In this form of treatment, the pulp is removed along with the affected parts of the tooth. This area is then filled with a sealing material to prevent exposure of the inner parts to harmful bacteria.
  • Tooth Extraction: In case most of the tooth has been damaged, a dentist may have to extract the tooth altogether. It is advisable to go for a dental implant to fill the empty place left by the extracted tooth, as other teeth may move in to fill that space.

Prevention of tooth decay

Here are some simple ways to prevent tooth decay:
  • Brush at least twice daily. If it's not possible to brush after every meal, at least rinse your mouth every time after you eat something.
  • Avoid eating snacks frequently.
  • Eat food like cheese, fruits and vegetables that are naturally good for your teeth.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Drink water that has fluoride added to it, like tap water.
  • Visit a dentist regularly.

Instead of getting into the dilemma of which treatment procedure to go for, try to prevent this condition from occurring. Follow proper prevention measures, and in case you experience the slightest pain, go to the dentist immediately so that the problem can be curbed in the initial stages itself.


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