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What is Tooth Decay and How Do I Know If I Have It?

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a breakdown of teeth due to the activity of oral bacteria. Cavity-causing bacteria covert the sugar on the teeth into acid, which then erode and soften the teeth.

Initially, there may be no symptoms.  As the cavity deepens, the affected tooth may become sensitive to hot, cold or sweet foods. In very advanced stages, a tooth weakened by extensive internal decay can suddenly fracture under normal chewing forces. When the decay has progressed enough to allow the bacteria to overwhelm the pulp tissue in the center of the tooth, a toothache can result and the pain may become constant. Death of the pulp tissue and infection are common consequences. The tooth will no longer be sensitive to hot or cold, but can be very tender to pressure.  Complications may include inflammation of the tissue around the tooth, tooth loss, and infection or abscess formation. In highly progressed cases, infection can spread from the tooth to the surrounding soft tissues.

During your routine exam and check up,  your dentist will inspect your teeth and will be able to detect cavities with the help of dental x-rays. It is always better to treat cavities early to prevent further damage to your teeth.

How can I prevent tooth decay?

Prevention includes regular cleaning of the teeth, reduced consumption of sugary and acidic foods, and small amounts of fluoride. Brushing the teeth twice per day and flossing between the teeth once a day is highly recommended. Fluoride sources include tap water (check with your local municipality to see if your water is fluorinated),  fluoride toothpaste and/or fluoride mouth rinse. Screening can result in earlier detection.

How can I treat a decayed tooth?

Treatment for a tooth with a cavity is typically a dental filling.  Teeth do not regrow, and may continue to decay if left untreated. Sometimes a tooth may require a crown if too much tooth structure is lost due to decay. Once the cavity reachs the nerve in the center of the tooth, a root canal treatment is necessary prior to a filling and crown.  In more severe cases,  the tooth may be too decayed to be saved,  and will need to be extracted to prevent further medical issues. A dental implant, bridge, or denture may be necessary to replace a tooth lost to an advanced cavity to prevent other teeth from shifting.

Portions excerpted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dental_caries under the Creative Commons license.
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The information provided below does not constitute dental advice and is general in nature. It does not take into account your personal dental health and should not be acted on without consultation with a certified dental professional.

Bathurst Centre Dental Care accepts no liability for any loss or injury arising out of the use of this website or reliance on the content of this website.

  1. I have lost several back teeth to tooth d3cay and have it pretty bad on my front teeth as well, you cam physically see inside severala of my teeth. Im assum8ng they will need to be pulled and then have all mybteeth pulled and rhen dentures or implants, i am 35 years old, just curious on what i am lookin at proce range and also pain wise etc.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for your inquiry. We can definitely help you out, and hopefully save some of your teeth! But we’ll need to take a look first. We’ll email you directly to follow up. Thanks!

  2. Hi, I recently went to the dentist after about 15 or so years since my last real exam. I am type 1 diabetic and I have major crowding in my bottom and bottom is minor crowding.

    The dentist told me I need braces to fix the crowding and to prevent more cavities. Ok. He went on to say that I need 4 surgical extractions, 3 because they’re broke to my gum line. 1 is an impacted wisdom tooth. I have gum disease pretty bad too. Then he went on to discuss my cavities saying I have too many to even count. I literally have 31 teeth in my head 3 of those are being removed due to severe cavity. So my question is, can a single tooth have more than 1 cavity? I’m scared this dr is just trying to make money off me. He told me my insurance doesn’t cover anything other than the surgical ones, which I knew was a lie. He just did not want to take my insurance and submit the prior authorizations for them. Can I really have so many cavities that it’s not countable? My teeth do not look terrible they’re fairly pretty still so I don’t know how I can have too many.

    1. Hi Jessica, the way dentists typically “count” cavities is by tooth “surface”. Each tooth has 5 surfaces and you can have cavities on any or all 5 surfaces of the same tooth, so yes, a single tooth may have more than 1 cavity. Sometimes a tooth may look or feel fine but could still have large cavities. That’s why dentists routinely use x-rays to help diagnose cavities. You don’t want to wait until your teeth begin to hurt or break before seeking treatment, it may decrease the likelihood of being able to save the teeth.

      If you have additional questions regarding your cavities, I would suggest booking a follow-up appointment with your dentist or seeking a second opinion from another dentist. Ask your family or friends for a recommendation.

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