Tooth decay is one of the most common and most ignored health issues. It can affect anyone who has teeth, so, literally ANYONE! If left untreated, tooth decay can cause a variety of complications like pain, infection or tooth loss ultimately. However, it may be avoided by maintaining proper oral hygiene and visiting your dentist regularly.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay or caries refers to any damage on the tooth’s outer layers due to bacterial action. It eventually leads to formation of cavities in the teeth.

What causes tooth decay

The main cause of tooth decay is dental plaque, which is essentially a sticky film made of bacteria and food particles that adhere to the tooth surface. The bacteria in the plaque in turn release acids that slowly dissolve the outer layer of the tooth (enamel). This leads to the formation of small pits on the tooth surface. These pits continue to deepen with further acid release from the bacteria to affect the much softer inner layer known as dentin. This demineralization forms a cavity on the tooth.

When to see a dentist?

Tooth decay can be presented with symptoms depending upon the extent and location of the cavities.

At times, there may be cavities in your mouth which may not elicit any symptoms, causing them to go unnoticed. Hence, it is crucial to pay regular visits to your dentist. Larger decay can bring out any of the below signs and symptoms: 


  • Sensitivity 

  • Mild to sharp pain on consuming hot/cold foods, drinks or sweets

  • Toothache that occurs spontaneously, may be severe and can increase at nights

  • Discoloration of the tooth - brown, black or white. Visible pits and holes on teeth

  • Pain on biting

How is tooth decay treated?

Any tooth decay in its early stages can be treated with a dental filling, which serves as a substitute for the damaged tooth structure and restores the tooth’s function. The process of placing a filling is quite straight-forward. The tooth is drilled to clean the affected areas and shaped to receive the filling material. Once cleaned, the filling material of choice is placed into the prepared cavity and adapted to rebuild the broken tooth structure. There are several filling materials that are available in the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Remember that tooth decay can be treated with a filling only if it’s in its early stages. If the cavity is close to the nerves of the tooth (pulp), it may require a more elaborate procedure like root canal treatment.

How to prevent tooth decay

Tooth decay can easily be prevented if you take certain precautions and maintain proper oral hygiene. Some strategies that you can adopt are outlined below:


  • Brush your teeth with a fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day. Rinse your mouth after each meal. 

  • Avoid sugar rich foods and beverages like candies, soda and cookies

  • Limit snacking in between meals

  • Visit your dentist regularly