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Tooth Decay

Man with painful tooth | Healthier Me Today

Tooth decay refers to any form of damage to the teeth. This damage results in cavities, dental abscesses, and in severe cases tooth loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most common chronic condition, especially in children. The CDC estimates that 91% of Americans are living with teeth cavities with 27% having untreated tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs when foods that contain starches and sugars remain on the teeth. Naturally, our mouths contain bacteria that break down food into acids. Plaque forms when food, debris, bacteria, and these acids combine. Plaque attaches to the teeth and over time, the acid dissolves the top layer of your teeth leading to cavities. Good oral hygiene is necessary if you don’t want to experience tooth decay. Tooth decay occurs over time and if left untreated this gradual decay can lead to tooth loss.

The main risk factors for tooth decay are poor dental hygiene and sugar. Some people are, however, more at risk of tooth decay than others. These include;

  • Those who lack enough saliva in their mouths. This can be due to certain diseases, medications, or cancer treatments.
  • People with fluoride deficiency. 
  • Young children are used to bottles, especially before bedtime.
  • Adults with receding gum disease.

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Types of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can affect all layers of the teeth. Decay progresses from one layer to another. Here are the different types of tooth decay; 

Smooth Surface Decay

This is slow decay that dissolves the enamel of the teeth. Smooth surface decay is preventable and in some cases, reversible. Proper brushing, dental cleanings, and regular flossing can prevent smooth surface decay. 

Pit and Fissure Decay

With this kind of decay, cavities develop on the chewing surface of the teeth. The decay can also affect the front part of your back teeth. This type of decay begins when you are a teenager and progresses if dental hygiene isn’t observed.

Root Decay 

This is a more severe case of tooth decay that affects adults as they get older. Older people usually have receding gums leaving them prone to decay. When gums recede, acid and plaque attack the exposed root. This kind of decay is difficult to prevent and even treat. 

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

In the early stages, tooth decay causes no pain. Most people don’t even realize that they have tooth decay until it’s too late. Regular dental visits can help rule out tooth decay and keep your teeth healthy. 

Some of the symptoms to look out for include;

  • Toothache that may be continuous
  • An occasional sharp pain that occurs without any obvious cause
  • Tooth sensitivity when drinking or eating something cold, hot, or sweet
  • Teeth discoloration where black, gray, or brown spots appear
  • An unpleasant taste in the mouth that doesn’t seem to go away.
  • Bad breath

Diagnosis of Tooth Decay

The best way to prevent or reverse tooth decay is by visiting a dentist regularly. Have dental checkups at least twice a year. The dentist will use a variety of tools to examine your teeth for decay. A tooth that has decayed feels softer when probed. The dentist may also order X-rays. X-rays show decay before it even becomes visible. 

How to Treat Tooth Decay

Tooth decay treatments depend on the progression of the decay. Treatment options include but are not limited to the following;

Fluoride treatments: If the decay is still at the early stages, fluoride treatments will work. These treatments repair the enamel through a process known as remineralization. They involve the use of prescription mouthwash or toothpaste and other fluoride treatments.

Fillings: Restorations or fillings are treatment options if the decay is too much. Fillings are made of different materials like porcelain, resins, and dental amalgam.

Crown replacement: If the decay is extensive, the dentist replaces the entire crown. The dentist drills away all the damaged areas and sculptures the tooth. Artificial crowns are then fitted. These are usually made of high-strength resin, porcelain, or gold.

Root canal: Root canal is done when tooth decay has advanced to the inner layer. Rather than extracting the whole tooth, the dentist makes an effort to save what remains. The dentist will drill the tooth to remove the damaged pulp. They may also use medication to clear infections before replacing the pulp with an artificial filling. 

Tooth extraction: Sometimes, the decay may be too severe that even root canal will not work. When that happens, the only solution is to remove the entire tooth. This leaves you with a gap that may or may not cause your remaining teeth to shift. It is, therefore, recommended that you get a dental implant or a bridge if you have a missing tooth. 

How to Manage Tooth Decay

You don’t have to live with tooth decay. If you have tooth decay, consider visiting a dentist to avoid losing your tooth. There are, however, measures you can take to ensure that your teeth don’t decay.

  • Always use fluoride toothpaste when brushing your teeth and make sure you do that at least twice a day. Ideally, you have to brush your teeth after every meal. 
  • Always rinse the mouth with a fluoride mouth rinse or mouthwash. 
  • Normalize visiting the dentist at least twice a year and having your teeth regularly cleaned to prevent plaque buildup. 
  • Consider getting dental sealants. Sealants usually last for years but need regular monitoring by a dentist.
  • Drink tap water since it contains fluoride rather than bottled water.
  • Avoid snacking or drinking sugary drinks before bed. If you do, brush your teeth afterward. 


  1. What type of toothbrush should you use? Always go for toothbrushes that have soft bristles because these don’t damage the gums and teeth. When brushing, use fluoride toothpaste.
  2. How often should you visit a dentist? According to the American Dental Association (ADA), adults should see a dentist at least once every six months.
  3. How can I prevent tooth sensitivity? To prevent sensitivity, brush your teeth twice a day with non-abrasive toothpaste. You also need to use a fluoride mouthwash and make sure you floss daily. At the same time, stay away from overly acidic foods. Also, see a dentist if you experience any tooth sensitivity.

Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!

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