Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Tooth Decay
topic provides information on tooth decay and cavities. If you are looking for
Tooth decay is damage that occurs when germs (bacteria) in your mouth make acids that eat away at
a tooth. It can lead to a hole in the tooth, called a cavity. If not treated, tooth decay can cause pain, infection, and tooth loss.
A tooth has three layers.
layers that are affected by decay, the worse the damage.
Bacteria and food can cause tooth decay. A clear, sticky substance called
plaque is always forming on
your teeth and gums. Plaque contains bacteria that feed on the sugars in the food you eat.
As the bacteria feed, they make acids. The acids attack the teeth for 20 minutes or more after
Over time, these acids destroy
tooth enamel, causing tooth decay.
Things that make you more likely to have tooth decay include:
Children, whose teeth are still growing, are more
likely than adults to have tooth decay. This is because the minerals in new teeth are not
very strong and are easier for acids to eat away.
Even babies can be at risk for tooth decay. Babies who are put to bed with a bottle can get "bottle mouth"—tooth decay caused by the sugar in milk, formula, or juice. Babies aren't born with decay-causing bacteria in their mouths. But they can get bacteria from adults who share spoons, forks, or other utensils with them.
Tooth decay usually doesn't cause symptoms until you have a
cavity or an infected tooth. When this happens, you may have:
If you have a toothache, see a dentist. Sometimes the pain will go away for
a while, but the
tooth decay will keep growing. If you don't get treatment, your cavities could get worse and your tooth could die.
To diagnose tooth decay, your dentist will:
The best treatment for
tooth decay depends on how severe it
is. If tooth decay is caught early, before a cavity forms, you may be able to stop it by brushing with
fluoride toothpaste or getting fluoride treatments. That's one good reason to see your dentist on a regular basis.
If the decay has eaten through the enamel, you may need one or more of these treatments:
If you have pain and swelling, you can take steps at home to relieve
You can prevent most tooth decay with these tips:
If you have children, get them regular dental checkups, and take steps early to prevent tooth decay.
Learning about tooth decay:
Other Works Consulted
Klein U (2011). Dental caries section of Oral medicine and dentistry. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 443–445. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Campbell PR (2009). Carious lesions. In NO
Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventative Dentistry, 7th
ed., pp. 29–42. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Clark MB, et al. (2014). Fluoride use in caries prevention in the primary care setting. Pediatrics, 134(3): 626–633. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2014-1699. Accessed October 3, 2014.
Hodges KO (2009). Periodontal diseases. In NO Harris et al., eds., Primary Preventive Dentistry, 7th ed., pp. 46–66. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
National Institutes of Health (2011). NIH fact sheet: Tooth decay. Available online: http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=129.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Council on Clinical Affairs (1967, revised 2014). Policy on use of fluoride. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.aapd.org/media/Policies_Guidelines/P_FluorideUse.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2014.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerSteven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Steven K. Patterson, BS, DDS, MPH - Dentistry
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
250 Pleasant Street
Concord, NH 03301
Contact Concord Hospital
View Quality Data
© 2015 Concord Hospital