Tooth Decay (Cavities)

Tooth decay is the most common chronic dental health issue in the United States, and affects children and adults equally. As the cause behind cavities (holes in your teeth), tooth decay begins when oral bacteria accumulate on your teeth, producing harmful acids to attack your tooth enamel. In the midst of inadequate hygiene and preventative dental care, these attacks can erode enamel enough for oral bacteria to slip past it and infect your tooth’s main structure, known as dentin. When left untreated, tooth decay can destroy increasingly more of your tooth, and the pain caused by the infection can become debilitating.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is caused by the accumulation of oral bacteria, which form plaque and tartar that clings to your teeth. As certain bacteria metabolize nutrients in your food, especially sugar and other carbs, they produce acids that sap teeth of minerals and weaken their protective enamel. If enamel becomes weak enough, it can develop a small hole, or cavity, that allows oral bacteria to reach your tooth’s more sensitive dentin. As a progressive issue, tooth decay grows worse with time, and the cavity in your tooth will grow larger until your dentist treats it.

Treatment Options

Tooth decay is also one of the most common causes of toothaches, and therefore, patients often seek treatment before the condition becomes too severe. For a mild to moderate cavity, your dentist may recommend a dental filling to restore tooth’s structural integrity. After carefully removing the infected tooth structure, your dentist will place a biocompatible material, such as tooth-colored composite resin, into the cavity, protecting the exposed dentin from further bacterial infection. If tooth decay reaches the nerves and tissues that are housed in the tooth’s pulp chamber, then endodontic treatment (or root canal therapy) will be necessary to save the tooth. Your dentist may also place a lifelike dental crown over the treated tooth for additional protection, and to restore your tooth’s healthy appearance.