by Rick Alan
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 risk of cavities 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 is diagnosed over a period of time. 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:
If the tooth is removed, it will be replaced with:
If you are diagnosed with tooth decay, follow your dentist's instructions.
Measures that help prevent and stop tooth decay include:
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. Most local water supplies have fluoride. 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
American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
The Canadian Dental Hygienists Association
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Last reviewed October 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/31/2012