How does tooth decay happen?

Tooth decay is very common, and affects people of all ages. Tooth decay can occur if plaque is left on teeth. Millions of tiny bacteria live in the plaque and they make acids which soften the tooth surface. The acids actually dissolve away the minerals in the tooth outer surface (or enamel).

These bacteria need to feed on the sugars in the food and drink that we consume in order to make the acid. Once all the sugar has been used up, the acid gradually disappears and the tooth has a chance to repair itself. The minerals in saliva help this to happen.

If plaque is not removed regularly, or if sugar is eaten too often, then plaque bacteria can keep producing more and more acid, and the tooth doesn’t get a chance to repair itself properly. Eventually a small hole (or cavity) appears.

What can happen next?

As more acids are produced, the hole gets bigger, and goes deeper towards the living part of the tooth (called the pulp). This makes the tooth more sensitive, especially to hot and cold stimulants.

Eventually, when the hole gets large enough, the pulp becomes damaged and can die. Bacteria from the mouth can then infect the dead pulp and cause an abscess and toothache.

Did you know?

Tooth-brushing with a fluoride toothpaste helps to remove plaque, and prevent decay from happening. Also, cutting down on sugary foods and drinks helps protect teeth, especially if you only have them at mealtimes. Dentists can repair holes or cavities in teeth with fillings, and help prevent them getting too big and painful.

From childhood!

Preventive dental treatments are available from early childhood age. Fluoride supplements have been proven to strengthen smooth tooth surfaces, while preventive dental restorations (pits and fissures sealants) could protect rough tooth surfaces from tooth decay.

You can discuss these protective dental measures with one of our dentists for more details.