Understanding Tooth Decay: Causes, Effects & Prevention

Understanding Tooth Decay: Causes, Effects & Prevention

Tooth decay, often called cavities, is a widespread dental problem affecting individuals of all ages. Understanding tooth decay and how to prevent it is crucial for maintaining good oral health.

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is a gradual breakdown of the tooth’s enamel, which is the hard outer layer of teeth. It occurs when harmful bacteria in your mouth produce acids that erode the enamel, creating cavities or holes in the teeth. Left untreated, tooth decay can lead to various dental issues, including pain, infection, and tooth loss.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Plaque Formation

The primary culprit behind tooth decay is dental plaque. Dental plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. When sugary or starchy foods are consumed, the bacteria in plaque feed on these sugars, producing acid as a byproduct. This acid then attacks the tooth enamel, leading to demineralization and cavities.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Inadequate brushing and flossing habits can allow plaque to accumulate on your teeth, increasing the risk of tooth decay. Brushing and flossing help remove plaque and prevent its buildup.


A diet high in sugary and acidic foods and beverages can contribute to tooth decay. These substances promote the growth of harmful bacteria and increase acid production in the mouth, accelerating enamel erosion.

Dry Mouth

Saliva plays a crucial role in neutralizing acid and remineralizing teeth. Conditions such as dry mouth (xerostomia), which reduce saliva production, can make tooth decay easier.


Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to tooth decay, with naturally weaker enamel or a higher susceptibility to plaque buildup.

Effects of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay can lead to several adverse effects, including:

  1. Tooth Pain: As the enamel erodes and cavities form, you may experience tooth sensitivity and pain, especially when consuming hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages.
  2. Infections: Untreated cavities can allow bacteria to penetrate deeper into the tooth, causing infections, dental abscesses, and gum disease.
  3. Tooth Loss: Severe decay can weaken the tooth structure to the point where the tooth becomes irreparable and must be extracted.
  4. Compromised Oral Function: Tooth decay can affect the ability to chew food adequately, leading to dietary limitations and potential digestive issues.

Preventing Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is preventable with the right strategies and habits. Here’s how to keep your teeth healthy:

Maintain Proper Oral Hygiene

Brushing teeth at least twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and be gentle to avoid damaging your enamel. Foss daily to remove plaque and food particles from between your teeth.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Limit consumption of sugary and acidic foods and drinks. Try to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains & lean proteins.

Drink Water

Drinking water helps to rinse away food bacteria and food particles and promote saliva production, which aids in neutralizing acids and remineralizing teeth.

Choose Sugar-Free Gum

Chewing sugar-free gum after meals stimulates saliva production and helps rinse away food debris and acids.

Regular Dental Check-ups

Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and dental cleanings. Dental professionals can detect early signs of tooth decay and provide preventive treatments such as fluoride applications and dental sealants.


Consider using fluoride mouthwash or getting professional fluoride treatments if recommended by your dentist. Fluoride helps strengthen enamel and make it more resistant to acid attacks.

Avoid Tobacco Products

Tobacco increases the risk of tooth decay and other oral health problems. 

While common, you can significantly reduce your riskof tooth decay with proper preventive measures and a commitment to good oral hygiene. Understanding the causes of tooth decay and its potential effects empowers you to take control of your oral health and enjoy a lifetime of healthy, cavity-free teeth.  Contact us to schedule your visit or consultation today!

Learn How To Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Learn How To Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

What is bottle decay?

Cavities found on the upper, front teeth in small children are commonly known as bottle decay, nursing caries, early childhood caries or baby bottle mouth. The cavities are localized to the upper front teeth because when a baby drinks from a bottle or nipple, their tongue covers the lower teeth, protecting them. These cavities often develop before the molars erupt.

How do babies get cavities?

Like adult cavities, bottle decay is caused by a combination of bacteria + carbohydrates + susceptible tooth surfaces. When we ingest carbohydrates, such as the natural sugars found in milk, they can be used by cavity-causing bacteria to grow. This bacteria then creates plaque, which is acidic. When this acid is allowed to sit on the teeth undisturbed, it starts to break down the protective enamel layer. When this reaction often happens, such as with a nightly bottle before sleep, the enamel decays and a cavity develops. Our mouths do have some self-cleaning tricks, such as producing watery saliva, however, when we fall asleep, this saliva production slows down and if proper brushing is not done, the acidic plaque is allowed to sit on the teeth for a long period.

baby bottle tooth decay

How can I prevent decay in my children’s teeth?

Children should always go to bed with a clean mouth. This starts with wiping the teeth and gums with a wet cloth after nursing or bottles. Once the molars erupt, a soft toothbrush should be used at least twice a day to remove plaque.

The current guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry note that fluoride toothpaste can start being used as soon as teeth erupt. For children under the age of 3, it is recommended to use a small “smear” amount of toothpaste, with adult assistance. Fluoride is the only substance that can help “heal” acid damage, otherwise called “demineralization.”

When parents are brushing children’s teeth they should lift the upper lip to ensure the toothbrush is removing all of the plaque, especially along the gum line where it tends to collect.

Children should only have water in bed with them as it does not contain carbohydrates. Night nursing, especially on-demand nursing should be reduced as early as possible to minimize cavity risk. Breast milk on its own has not been proven to cause cavities. However, if there is plaque is present on the teeth, and then breast milk is allowed to sit on the tooth surface as well, this can cause cavities over time. Increased frequency of feedings also increases the risk of cavities.

Children can start to develop cavities as soon as their teeth erupt; this is why every child should be assessed by a dentist within six months of their first tooth erupting. Dental professionals may be able to diagnose early signs of cavities and provide solutions to reduce the risk or slow the progression. Contact us if you have any questions, or would like to schedule a consultation or dental visit.

How To Avoid Worn Teeth

How To Avoid Worn Teeth

Cavities aren’t the only things that can cause damage to your teeth. If your teeth appear shorter or you have worn teeth, you may be at risk for severe dental issues.
Two common causes of excessively worn teeth are bruxism (grinding) or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).  If these two conditions happen at the same time, tooth destruction will happen even quicker.
grinding teeth dental treatment


Grinding and/or clenching of the teeth. This is a common condition which occurs mainly at night when you can’t consciously control it. Some people may also clench and grind their teeth during the day, especially in times of stress, concentration, driving or if involved in heavy weight-lifting. Sleep bruxism is more destructive than daytime bruxism since the forces applied are much heavier while you are asleep.

Symptoms of bruxism:

  • Jaw pain, clicking or popping of the jaw, painful jaw muscles.
  • Headaches (especially upon waking).
  • Worn and chipped biting edges of teeth. Edges of front teeth may appear translucent.
  • Spouse or family members may hear you grinding at night.
  • Sensitive or painful teeth.
Treatment of bruxism:
The first step is to visit your dentist to discuss your symptoms. If you do clench and grind your teeth, your dentist might suggest wearing a protective appliance called a biteplane. This will protect your teeth from wear and help your jaw joint and muscles to relax.


This condition occurs when the stomach acid back-flows into the esophagus, causing irritation. Also known as acid reflux, this is a common digestive disorder that affects many people. In some cases, the stomach acids can flow up into the mouth, and cause destruction to the enamel of your teeth. There is also evidence that the irritation caused by GERD can increase your risk of developing certain cancers.
Symptoms of GERD:
  • Chronic heartburn.
  • Acid regurgitation into the mouth (sour taste).
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Chronic irritation of the throat.
  • Erosion of the enamel of the teeth.

Treatment of GERD:

If you suspect you might have GERD, speak to your doctor. Treatment may include diet and lifestyle changes, medication or even surgery.
Early detection and treatment is important since the more severely worn the teeth are, the more complicated it will be to fix. Call us today and take the important step in preventing further damage to your teeth.