Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth material, which includes:
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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 the teeth. It holds the acid to the tooth. The acid wears away the tooth. Over time, the acid can lead to tooth decay.
Everyone is at risk for 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, the 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
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Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 7/15/2014