Tooth decay – Reasons and remedies

tooth decay

What is tooth decay?

Dental caries is just another term we dentists use to describe tooth decay. It occurs when decay-causing bacteria in our mouth make acids which can attack the tooth enamel and its surface too.

The damage done to your tooth will eventually cause tiny holes, also known as tooth cavities. When you leave tooth decay untreated you will soon start feeling pain and if you go on longer without treatment, it can easily turn into an infection, pus formation, the bacteria can start growing in your tooth root and you can even lose your tooth.

One of the most common cause of toothache is tooth decay. It always starts at the surface, the tooth enamel which starts to wear off and can go deeper down into the tooth itself.

Most common causes of tooth decay?

At any given moment, our mouth is full of bacteria. Of course, not all of them are bad. Some are actually good but there are those that are not so good. After each meal, a thin layer of food remains on or in between your teeth. And when bacteria combine with food remains, it creates what is know as plaque. Over time, the plaque can harden, resulting in tartar.

Bacteria that are in the plaque, use sugars and start producing acids which destroy the minerals in your tooth enamel. If you notice a white spot on your tooth, that’s where the tooth enamel already started to weaken. This is one of the earliest signs of tooth decay and you can still turn back things at this point. But if the loss of minerals continues, the decay will worsen, the enamel will grow weaker and you will develop cavities.

Stages of tooth decay

In dentistry, we categorize tooth decay in five different stages:

White spot formation

As we mentioned above, this is when the acid produced by harmful bacteria, start degrading the mineral structure of your tooth enamel. Formation of white spots on your teeth, indicates that your enamel is getting weaker and losing minerals.

Tooth enamel is actually one of the hardest tissues in our body and it’s mostly composed from minerals. However, if your teeth are constantly exposed to acids, enamel will start to lose minerals and start wearing off. The layer of minerals will get thinner, forming white spots which is the sign of early tooth decay.

Enamel decay

In the early stages of tooth decay, you are still able to naturally restore the minerals in your tooth enamel through a process called “remineralization”. However, once the decay reaches the second stage, enamel decay, the remineralization process is no longer sufficient to restore the minerals in your enamel. The enamel will start wearing off not just on the surface, but underneath. This will create lesions in the tooth, called cavities.

Dentin decay

Under your tooth enamel is the dentin. Unlike enamel, which is hard and strong, dentil is softer and not so resilient to wear and tear. This layer of your tooth will wear off quicker than the enamel. Once your dentin gets affected by decay, you will start feeling some sensitivity in your tooth, mostly pain.

Pulp damage

At the center of your tooth is the pulp. The main role of the pulp is to produce dentin which connects the enamel to the pulp. Once the tooth decay reaches the pulp, there’s a high risk of pus formation, which will eventually damage the blood vessels and nerves in your tooth. At this point, the only possible remedy would be to perform a root canal procedure.

Abscess formation

When decay advances, the bacteria will invade further causing serious infections and inflammation. The inflammation can cause a pus pocket to form. Usually, these pockets form at the bottom of your tooth and we call them abscesses. If you notice that your gums or your face/jaw are swollen or you have fever, it’s most likely that an abscess has formed underneath your tooth.

What can you do against tooth decay?

We recommend to all our patients to be proactive and prevent tooth decay from occurring at all! This means regularly brushing and flossing your teeth, using mouthwash if you need to and of course visiting your dentist at least twice a year for a regular checkup and cleaning.

In early stages of tooth decay, you may not experience any pain or discomfort. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that there’s no underlying problem. During regular dental appointment, we can spot any abnormalities at its early stages and treat it. So make sure that you schedule your appointment and keep your teeth in top condition.


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Dr. Nguyen
Dr. Nguyen

Dr. Nguyen is committed to providing high-quality dentistry using state-of-the-art equipment to help you achieve improved oral health and the beautiful smile you deserve.

Dr. Nguyen has served on the Virginia Board of Dentistry and has many achievements such as: Invisalign Premier and Teen Provider, Pre-Fellow with Academy of General Dentistry, Graduate of Aesthetic Continuum, Engel Institute for Dental Implant Training, WaveOne Endodontic Training, HD President’s Club.

Dr. Nguyen enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters, staying active in the gym, and trying out new restaurants.  When he isn’t at work, you can find him playing basketball, tennis, football, or hiking.

“I want to make you feel right at home, exceed your expectations, and provide an amazing experience!”