Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth material, which includes:
Everyone has bacteria in their mouths. The bacteria eat sugars that are left on the tooth, which then creates acid. The acid and the bacteria form plaque on the teeth. This plaque clings to your teeth. It holds the acid to the tooth. The acid wears away the tooth. Over time, the acid can lead to tooth decay.
Everyone has the chance to develop tooth decay. Factors that may increase your chance of tooth decay include:
Babies are also at risk for developing cavities. Habits that can increase the risk include giving a bottle between regular feedings or while in bed at night.
Tooth decay may cause:
Tooth decay may be diagnosed over a period of time or at a single dental visit. This involves clinical examination as well as x-rays.
A dentist checks for tooth decay by:
Sometimes tooth decay will repair itself. This is most likely if it is caught early.
Treatment for more severe decay includes:
When decay reaches the dentin, your dentist will treat it by:
Tooth decay that reaches the pulp and/or root of the tooth is treated with a root canal:
Tooth extraction may be necessary if:
If the tooth is removed, it will be replaced with a:
To help reduce your chance of tooth decay:
Talk to your dentist about the use of a sealant. This is a protective plastic covering. It is applied to the chewing surfaces of teeth. Sealants usually last anywhere from 5-15 years.
Prevention is particularly important for children. Supplemental fluoride in early childhood can prevent early decay. The dose can be adjusted for the amount of natural or added fluoride in local water supplies. Fluoride can also be applied to permanent teeth as a long acting varnish. Re-varnishing is usually necessary at least twice yearly.
Academy of General Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
Fluoride for prevention of dental. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T360983/Fluoride-for-prevention-of-dental-caries. Updated November 11, 2015. Accessed June 2, 2016.
Murdoch-Kinch CA, Mclean ME. Minimally invasive dentistry. J Am Dent Assoc. 2003;134(4):412-414.
Seal out tooth decay. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website. Available at http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/ToothDecay/SealOutToothDecay.htm. Updated August 2012. Accessed September 30, 2014.
Selwitz RH, Ismail AL, Pitts NB. Dental caries. Lancet. 2007:369(9555):51-59.
Statement on early childhood caries. American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-positions-policies-and-statements/statement-on-early-childhood-caries. Accessed September 30, 2014.
Tooth decay. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=129&key=T. Accessed September 30, 2014.
Twetman S. Consistent evidence to support the use of xylitol- and sorbitol-containing chewing gum to prevent dental caries. Evid Based Dent. 2009;10(1):10-1.
8/2/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T360983/Fluoride-for-prevention-of-dental-caries: Khadra-Eid J, Baudet D, Fourny M, Sellier E, Brun C, François P. Development of a screening scale for children at risk of baby bottle tooth decay. Arch Pediatr. 2012;19(3):235-241.
5/17/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T360983/Fluoride-for-prevention-of-dental-caries: Moyer VA, US Preventive Services Task Force. Prevention of dental caries in children from birth through age 5 years: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Pediatrics. 2014;133(6):1102-1111.
7/15/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T360983/Fluoride-for-prevention-of-dental-caries: Yaacob M, Worthington HV, et al. Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;6:CD002281.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.