usually happens slowly over a period of months or years.
begins when bacteria in your mouth increase during the first 20 to 30 minutes
after you eat.
The bacteria make acids, which eat away at the hard mineral layers of
the tooth. A hole (cavity) forms when the acids cause more
damage than the tooth can repair.
See pictures of a
A tooth has an outer layer (enamel), a middle layer (dentin), and a center (pulp). The more
layers that are affected by decay, the worse the damage.
- When tooth decay is mild, the area of decay is
small and has not pierced the tooth surface. You can sometimes stop the decay
with improved care, such as having your dentist apply
fluoride to your teeth.
- When tooth decay
gets worse, a cavity forms. You will need a
filling to stop the decay and prevent more
- If the pulp begins to decay, the tooth will likely die,
because the pulp contains nerves and blood vessels that supply the tooth. After
a decayed tooth dies, an
abscess may form in the bone at the end of the root.
For more information, see the topic
Types of cavities (dental caries) are:
- Pit and fissure cavities, which form in the
deep pits and grooves on the chewing and biting surfaces of the back
- Smooth-surface cavities, which form on the sides of teeth,
including between the teeth.
- Root cavities, which form on the root
and can extend below the gum line. Root decay is less common than decay in
other parts of the tooth. But root decay is more likely to damage the tooth
- Recurrent or secondary cavities, which form where you already
had a cavity.
Untreated tooth decay causes more severe problems and can
lead to gum disease. For more information, see the topic
Your saliva helps prevent tooth decay. It reduces
acid damage to a tooth by washing away sticky, sugary foods that feed bacteria.
The minerals in saliva also can help repair the tooth.
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