Dental Decay

Dental Decay

Tooth decay, or dental caries as it is known, occurs when acids in your mouth dissolve the outer layer of the tooth. Acids from plaque bacteria eat through the enamel layer then progress through the dentine until they reach the dental pulp. Normally the damage is fairly advanced before your feel any pain in your tooth.

How does decay start?

Bacteria in the mouth combine with food particles and saliva to form a sticky substance called plaque which builds up on the surface of the teeth. When you eat food and drinks high in carbohydrates (sugars & starch) the bacteria feed on the sugars and produce acid as a by-product of their metabolism. It is this acid from the plaque on the tooth surface that decays the tooth. The acids dissolve the enamel layer and then the bacteria enter through the hole in the enamel and gradually destroy the inside of the tooth spreading quickly through the dentine which is less resistant to decay.


Tooth decay doesn’t cause any symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage and then it may be too late. It can be detected in the early stages by having a dental examination. The dentist can detect early stages of dental decay and prevent it from spreading. In the later stages you may experience:

  1. Toothache.
  2. Sensitivity to hot and cold.
  3. Discolouration of the teeth, and
  4. Bad breath.

Risk factors:

  1. Diet – eating sweets, chocolates, sweet sticky foods, fizzy drinks.
  2. Poor oral hygiene – not brushing your teeth regularly.
  3. Smoking – interferes with saliva production.
  4. Dry mouth – reduced saliva increases the decay risk. Certain types of medication can cause dry mouth, such as: Tricyclic antidepressants, antihistamines, anti epileptic drugs, beta blockers.
  5. Eating disorders: Anorexia causes reduced saliva, and with Bulimia stomach acids entering the mouth destroy tooth enamel in the same way as plaque acid.

Is it treatable?

Yes. In the early stages fluoride gels and varnish can help re-mineralise the enamel. The enamel can repair itself with fluoride applications. In more advanced stages, the decay can be removed and a filling placed. If it has progressed to the pulp, you will most likely have to root canal treat the tooth and then fit a crown.

How can you reduce the chances of decay?

  1. Visit your dentist regularly, normally 2 x a year.
  2. Brush your teeth at least 2 x a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss regularly
  3. Use mouthwashes
  4. Reduce your sugar intake, eat regular meals but don’t snack between meals with sugary foods and drinks. The saliva will normally neutralise the plaque acids within 30 minutes after eating and the enamel will re-mineralise again. But if you keep eating and drinking all day the saliva will not have enough time to reduce the acid levels in the mouth.
  5. Drink plenty of water during the day, not fizzy drinks.

Is decay preventable?

Yes. Tooth decay is widespread, but also one of the most preventable diseases. Over 50% of Adults have some decay and up to 70% of children have some decay in the mouth according to UK statistics.

If you do 3 simple things, you will reduce your chances of decay dramatically:


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