Copyright © Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Dental caries, or tooth decay, is caused by acid erosion of tooth enamel.
The human mouth contains many different types of bacteria, which can gradually build up and erode the teeth, forming plaque. The plaque bacteria convert the sugar and carbohydrates in food particles into acids which dissolve the minerals on the surface of the tooth, eroding the enamel or creating pits or dental cavities called dental caries.
Early caries may be reversed if the acid damage is stopped and the tooth is given a chance to repair itself naturally, but caries that have destroyed the enamel cannot be reversed.
Plaque typically forms in:
This damage can occur anywhere that the tooth is exposed to plaque, including the hard outer enamel on the tooth crown or parts of the root that have been exposed because of receding gums.
As the tooth decay progresses, the protective enamel is penetrated, exposing the softer dentin and tooth pulp, which contain nerve fibres; this can result in pain.
If a tooth cavity is not treated, it will eventually destroy the tooth.
The early stages of decay are usually painless, and only regular professional examinations can help detect the decay at this point.
However, when the enamel is damaged, sensitivity develops to hot/cold foods and drinks. When the dentin is damaged, it can result in pain.
Dental caries can be diagnosed by:
The standard treatment for a tooth cavity is to fill the tooth with fillings made of dental amalgam or composite resin. Amalgams are used primarily in molars and premolars, and resins are used primarily in the front teeth.
If a cavity is large, the dentist will clear the decay, fill the cavity and cover the tooth with an artificial crown. The dentist may advise root canal treatment, which involves removing the tooth's pulp and replacing it with an inert material.
Tips for preventing dental caries include:
Download the HealthHub app on
Google Play or
Apple Store to access more health and wellness advice at your fingertips.
This article was last reviewed on
Monday, May 31, 2021
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Chickenpox: Symptoms and Treatment Options
Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) by HDB