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Tooth Decay - What Is My Risk?

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Tooth Decay - What Is My Risk?

4 min read


Damage to the tooth surface by acids produced by bacteria in the mouth is called tooth decay. Read about the factors that increase the risk of tooth decay.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sneha Kannan

Published At March 25, 2020
Reviewed AtAugust 1, 2023


You are probably reading this article because you have cavities in your mouth or have been struggling with tooth decay for many years and want to put an end to this problem. Or perhaps, you have a young toddler whose teeth seem to be dissolving away and get rotten as soon as they come through into their mouth. If you are wondering “why me?” read through the following lines as I unfold the reasons that increase your risk for tooth decay and outline the steps to take to minimize your risk of developing new cavities and even cure tooth decay in its early stages if you or any of your loved ones happen to develop any.

What Is Tooth Decay and How Does It Occur?

Tooth decay also referred to as dental caries, is one of the most common diseases throughout the world. It is an infection caused by the bacteria in the mouth, turning sugar in food and drinks into organic acids. These acids gradually dissolve and damage your teeth causing cavities or tooth decay. Tooth decay symptoms often begin with a white spot lesion on the tooth surface, usually near the gum line. Left untreated, this white spot can become a hole or cavity that stains yellow-brown or black from food and drinks.

If the cavity is not treated, the decay can get deeper into the tooth and cause pain (toothache), and if it reaches the pulp, the inner core layer containing the nerves and blood vessels that supply the tooth with nutrients, the pain may become unbearable disturbing your sleep and there is a risk of developing a tooth abscess.

Am I at Risk of Tooth Decay?

Obviously, no one is immune to tooth decay and everyone’s teeth are susceptible. Whenever you chow down a meal or grab a bite or have a sweet drink, your teeth are attacked by acids produced by plaque bacteria acting on the sugar you have just consumed. This attack usually lasts up to 30 minutes after eating. However, the good news is that recovery usually ensues after that and any small damage to tooth enamel, the hardest outer layer of the tooth, begins to repair with the help of minerals from your saliva and fluoride in water and toothpaste.

It is now clear that the most important risk factor in developing tooth decay is your dietary habits. Not only what you eat or drink but also how often too. Research into dental caries proves that the most important factor in caries development is sugar (sucrose) in the diet with the frequency and form of intake being more important than the amount. Thus your risk for tooth decay is greatest if you consume sugar frequently in a form that tends to adhere to the teeth.

Other factors to consider when looking into your risk for tooth decay include the quantity and quality of your saliva, oral hygiene habits, and regular use of fluoridated products such as toothpaste and mouthwashes. People with reduced salivary flow or a dry mouth as a side effect to medications or for any other reason have a greater risk of tooth decay as they lose the protective role of saliva.

How to Reduce the Risk of Tooth Decay?

Knowing how tooth decay develops and what factors contribute to its development, one can reduce their risk of decay if they could control these factors:

  • Watching what you eat is a good starting point.
  • Avoid snacking and grazing to limit the number of times your teeth are under attack from acids.
  • Consume less chocolate, sticky sweets, juices, and other soft drinks, as they are high in sugar and not tooth-friendly.
  • You may have diet fizzy drinks, as they do not contain sugar but keep in mind that they are high in their acid content and if consumed in large amounts can dissolve away the enamel and still cause damage to your teeth.
  • Opt for healthy and nutritious consumables that are low in sugar or even better sugar-free, and watch for added and hidden sugar in canned and processed food items.
  • Another good way to reduce your risk of tooth decay is to brush your teeth thoroughly, the inner surfaces as well as the outer and biting ones, at least twice a day, once at bedtime before you go to sleep and another time when you wake up in the morning, with a fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Fluoride is well known for its anti-cariogenic (tooth decay reducing) properties. It promotes repair of damaged enamel (remineralization) and strengthens tooth structure making it more resistant to acid dissolution.
  • Make sure that you use additional cleaning aids such as, interdental brushes and dental floss to clean areas between your teeth, which an ordinary toothbrush can not reach, at least once a day.
  • To benefit from the protective buffering capacity of saliva, tell your doctor if you have a dry mouth and chew sugar-free gum to increase your salivary flow.
  • Finally, if you have a young child and you want to protect their teeth from tooth decay, avoid long feeding periods, sweetened drinks or fruit juices in the bottle, sweetened dummy, and bottle left with the child at night, since acids forming in the mouth of a sleeping child are washed away at a slower rate.
  • It is also a good idea to ask your dentist to place a special adhesive layer called fissure sealant on the back teeth, the permanent ones when they come into your child's mouth to protect them from decay.

How to Reverse Early Lesions?

To reverse the early lesions or the white spots on your teeth and make them heal, you can ask your dentist to place concentrated fluoride varnish or gel on your teeth, usually twice a year, or have a toothpaste containing a higher concentration of fluoride (about 5000 ppm) and apply it to the lesions twice a day for a few minutes after you brush your teeth with your usual fluoridated (1500 ppm) toothpaste, then spit out the excess but do not rinse your mouth.


Therefore, fluoride strengthens your teeth and makes them more resistant to further decay. You can also use a daily fluoride mouth rinse at bedtime as an alternative to the high fluoride toothpaste.

Frequently Asked Questions


In What Colors Does Tooth Decay Appear?

Dental cavities come in a range of colors. Initially, they appear as chalky white spots, after which they transform to yellow, light brown, brown, gray, and black colors based on how long they are left untreated.


What Does a Decayed Tooth Look Like?

Tooth decay initially appears as chalky white spots. These white spot lesions further get discolored to shades of yellow, brown, gray, and black, indicating enamel damage. Eventually, decayed, weak tooth structure gets lost or damaged, leading to black holes in teeth.


What Causes Poop Smell When I Floss My Teeth?

Food debris, soft and hard deposits (plaque and tartar), and gum abscesses cause bad odor.


When Does Tooth Decay Become Irreversible?

Chalky white spots on the teeth characterize the initial stage of tooth decay. At this stage, following decay management methods and getting preventive dental treatments helps reverse the decay. After this stage, it becomes irreversible when the decay changes its color from white to yellow, brown, gray, or black.


What Does an Untreated Decayed Tooth Do?

Untreated decay continues to destroy the tooth’s structure, and the infection penetrates deep inside the tooth’s layers to reach the innermost pulp. The infection further spreads below the tooth root and can lead to abscesses and cysts. At this stage, complications such as swelling, pain, and pus drainage can occur.


What Do Untreated Cavities in Baby Teeth Do?

Untreated cavities in baby teeth can damage the underlying developing permanent tooth bud. Also, these cavities can cause intense pain, swelling, difficulty opening the mouth, and fever in children.


How Long Can a Decayed Tooth Be Left Untreated?

There is no particular time span that determines the need for dental treatment to treat the decay. Decay spreads at different rates in different people at different mouth conditions. However, once a chalky white spot appears on teeth, immediately consult a dentist, failing which it becomes irreversible.


How to Manage Bad Breaths Due to Tooth Decay?

Following management methods to get rid of decay-induced bad breath without getting the decayed tooth treated does not yield permanent results. Hence, treating the decayed tooth and scaling (professional teeth cleaning) should be followed by twice a day brushing, flossing, and mouthwash to get rid of foul-smelling breath.


How Can Tooth Decay Be Managed?

The following methods help treat tooth decay based on the stage of decay.
- Fluoride application on teeth.
- Teeth fillings.
- Root canal therapy.
- Tooth extraction.


Are There Any At-Home Treatments Available for Tooth Decay?

Once you get a decayed tooth, it can be treated only by your dentist, after which you can follow decay prevention methods at home like following oral hygiene procedures, decreasing carbohydrate and sugary food intake, etc.


How to Remove Tooth Decay on My Own?

Though you cannot treat a decayed tooth by yourself, following decay prevention methods can help prevent its occurrence to some extent.
- Avoid chocolates and sticky foods.
- Avoid carbohydrate-rich and sugary foods.
- Keep your mouth hydrated by drinking enough water.
- Brush your teeth in the morning and at night.
- Use fluoridated dental products.
- Use mouthwashes and floss regularly.
- Visit your dentist regularly.


How to Stop the Spread of Tooth Decay?

Once dental decay sets in, it becomes difficult to stop its spread. Getting it treated is the only way to stop its disease activity.


Which Treatment Treats a Decayed Tooth Better?

All of the following treatment methods are efficient in treating decay at relevant stages.
- Fluoride treatment.
- Fillings with dental cement.
- Root canal treatment.
- Tooth extraction or removal.
Based on the severity of tooth decay at the time of your dental visit, any one of the above treatment methods will be suggested to you.
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Dr. Akmal Albert Asham Abdelmalek
Dr. Akmal Albert Asham Abdelmalek



oral health
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