Tooth filling

Tooth decay: How to reverse, avoid, and treat a cavity

2022. April 1. Published by

A dental cavity is a hole in a tooth, and a cavity is a result of the tooth decay process that happens over time. We’ve created this article with the aim to explain the causes of tooth decay, its treatment, how to reverse or avoid it. In our article, we answer all the important questions.

What is tooth decay? 

Our mouths are full of bacteria – some are helpful, some are harmful. When we expose our teeth to acid frequently, for example by eating and drinking foods and drinks containing sugar and starches, due to the continuous acid attacks the enamel will keep on losing minerals.

Tooth decay is a complex, chronic process in which the mineral content of the teeth is reduced, and the hard tissues are permanently destroyed. The process moves from the tooth surface inwards, towards the dentin. As a result, the tooth enamel becomes thinner and weaker, eventually it is destroyed, forming a cavity.

Causes of tooth decay 

Decay can affect all layers of a tooth. The different types of decay include:

  • Smooth surface: this is a slow-growing cavity that dissolves tooth enamel. With proper brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings you can prevent it, sometimes even reverse it.
  • Pit and fissure decay: cavities form on the top part of the chewing surface of the tooth.
  • Root decay: It is difficult to treat it, people with receding gums are more prone to root decay.

Why does decay develop?

The development of tooth decay is mainly due to the plaque on the teeth and the bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria, acid, food, and saliva mix to form plaque. This provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria in the oral cavity.

Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugary and starchy foods and drinks, converting carbohydrates into acids. This can reach such high concentrations in the plaque that the tooth enamel begins to dissolve, creating holes.

This happens when the pH of the oral cavity drops below 5.2-5.7.

The causes of dental cavity are as follows:

  • lack of regular and thorough brushing
  • inadequate oral hygiene
  • consuming foods and beverages that are high in sugar
  • increased plaque formation
  • frequent meals, snacks

Symptoms of tooth decay 

Symptoms of decay include:

  • small white spots on the tooth surface
  • small dark brown spots
  • deepening hole(s) in the surface of the tooth
  • sensitivity to cold, heat, sweet or salty food
  • temporary or permanent pain

Tooth decay is basically painless, and by the time the first holes appear, the decay has long begun. However, up to a certain stage, tooth decay can be reversed, so it is important to see a dentist as soon as possible.

Filling at dental clinic

The process and stages of tooth decay 

Stage 1: Demineralization

Enamel is the toughest substance in your body – even harder than your bones. Unfortunately, acid can demineralize and weaken it.

The first sign of incipient decay is the appearance of white spots on the tooth surface. This is because bacteria feeding on carbohydrates and sugars produce acid. The plaque has already started reducing the tooth enamel.

At this stage, reversal of tooth decay is even possible without filling.

Stage 2: Enamel decay

After a while, the process of tooth decay reaches the point where more minerals are removed from the tooth material than it can recover. The consequence is cracking of the enamel and then the formation of a cavity.

At this point, it is no longer possible to cure the decay without making a filling.

Stage 3: Dentin decay

Dentin is the layer of the tooth located between the outer hard enamel and the inner part of the tooth that contains nerves and soft parts (gums or pulp). This part is softer than enamel, so it’s much more sensitive to acid damage.

When decay reaches the dentin, intermittent or permanent toothache or sensitivity can occur when consuming hot or cold, salty or sweet foods and drinks.

You need to see a doctor immediately because tooth decay will speed up from this point on.

Stage 4: Damaged pulp, inflammation of the gums

The pulp is the layer beneath the dentin with blood vessels and nerves. Once decay reaches the pulp, your tooth may begin to swell.

When your pulp dies, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Color of your tooth changes from white to grey or black
  • Swelling around the tooth
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Tooth has an unpleasant smell

Inflammation of the gums is when the bacteria responsible for cavity irritates the gums. The gums become inflamed, and the pain is already a constant companion of tooth decay. Based on the symptoms and the clinical examination, your doctor will decide on the treatment.

Stage 5: The tooth dies

This is the final stage of tooth decay. The infection penetrates through the root canal and affects the bone tissue around the root canal. This can cause the gums to swell and pus to form.

The pain at this stage is uninterrupted and often unbearable.

An abscess may also develop – inflammation can spread to the tissues around the tooth or even the jawbone. If a root canal doesn’t do the trick, your tooth will have to be removed otherwise the infection can spread to the bones of your jaw or other parts of your head.

Patient's tooth hurts

How to treat tooth decay

There are several ways to treat decay, depending on the stage of the disease:

In stage 1, tooth decay can be treated without filling. You should ask your dentist and dental hygienist for advice on the use of the right brushing techniques, fluoride toothpastes and toothbrushes.

In stage 2 and especially stage 3, the treatment of decay is tooth filling.

Depending on the type of gingivitis, in stage 4, we decide on a treatment that might be filling, but it’s important to know that root canal treatment may be the only possible treatment.

In stage 5, cavity can be treated with oral surgery.

Prevention of tooth decay

The best way to protect your teeth from cavities is to develop and maintain proper oral hygiene:

  • brush your teeth accurately and thoroughly at least twice a day with the right techniques and tools
  • a regular dental check-up is also essential to recognize problems in early stages (at least once every six months)

Remember that neglecting your dental care can lead to many other diseases.

The following are also beneficial for the prevention of dental cavity:

  • a varied, nutrient-rich diet
  • avoiding sweets, especially sugary drinks, or moderating their consumption
  • giving up on snacks
  • use of fluoride toothpastes and mouthwashes

If you have any further questions regarding tooth decay or dental cavities, we are happy to help! Contact us or book an appointment at our Dental Clinic in Budapest, Hungary.



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