What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay happens when acids wear away the tooth’s hard surface layer, called enamel. These acids are made by a sticky film called plaque. Plaque has germs that feed on sugary foods. The process of digesting these sugars makes acids that attack tooth surfaces. Over time, tooth decay can cause holes in the tooth surface. These are called cavities. If left untreated, cavities can get bigger. They can even destroy the tooth.

If you think you have a cavity, see your dental team. Your dentist is likely to put in a filling. Fillings may stop the cavity from getting bigger.

Acids constantly attack your tooth surfaces. But tooth decay doesn’t happen all at once. That’s because other elements in your mouth work to strengthen your teeth and stop the tooth decay process. One of these elements is saliva. Saliva has minerals that help strengthen tooth surfaces. Fluoride, a natural mineral that is often added to water and found in toothpaste, also helps to make teeth stronger.

Here are some tips to help prevent tooth decay:

  • Don’t eat a lot of sugary foods. Cut down on snacks between meals, this will help prevent plaque from making acid. It will also reduce the number of times your teeth are exposed to acids.
  • Drink plenty of water, especially if you take certain medicines. Some medicines can decrease the amount of saliva your body makes. This may put you at greater risk for tooth decay.
  • Brush with toothpaste twice a day and use a mouthwash with fluoride. Fluoride helps make tooth surfaces harder and stronger.
  • Visit your dental team at least twice a year. They will clean your teeth and check for cavitie.