We all want to avoid tooth decay, as it can cause pain, bad breath and lead to cavities and even tooth loss. Yet it’s still a very common condition, and while it usually affects children and young adults, it can happen at any age. So, let’s find out what causes tooth decay and then we can move on to the steps you can take to prevent it.
Tooth decay is a gradual process that, when left untreated, develops into a cavity (hole) in the tooth. As bacteria builds up in your mouth, it forms a sticky substance called plaque. Each time you eat sugary or starchy foods, plaque gets stickier and if left unchecked, it can harden into tartar. The bacteria in the plaque, or tartar, produces acid, which can demineralise the hard, outer enamel of your teeth. This can result in a soft spot, or hole in the tooth, called a cavity.
If this hole gets deeper, it can penetrate to the softer inside layer of your tooth. If it penetrates further still it can reach right through to the tooth pulp. This form of severe tooth decay can be very painful and cause tooth loss.
Cavities are sometimes visible as a black or brown spot, but they often only show up on an X-ray, so don’t skip regular dental check-ups. Symptoms that may indicate you have decayed teeth include:
Depending on the severity, your dentist may do any of the following:
The simplest and most effective way of preventing tooth decay is preventing plaque build-up. Because plaque is forming constantly it’s essential to keep cleaning it away every day. That’s why it’s so important to keep up a rigorous oral health routine:
Dental cavities often only show up on an X-ray, so don't skip regular dental check-ups.
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Find helpful advice on your oral health concerns in our guides created by Signal, the family dental expert