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Tooth decay or cavity is a dental condition where the enamel is dissolved by bacterial action leading to cavities or holes in the tooth. It is medically referred to as dental caries. Even though it is considered as a childhood disease, everyone is at the risk of developing cavities at any stage of their life. Overall, tooth decay causes and risk factors remain nearly the same for all people.

Causes
  • The cause remains unknown to many people. Actually, a decay in the tooth results from the demineralization process (mineral dissolving), which is caused due to accumulation of acids on the tooth surface.
  • This acid is secreted by bacteria present in the mouth in presence of glucose, sucrose, or fructose.
  • In short, the causes are acid-producing bacteria and dietary choices.
Actual Decay Process
  • When foods containing fermentable carbohydrate and sugars are ingested, bacteria like Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacillus act on them leading to production of lactic acid.
  • Dental plaque is then formed by combination of saliva, bacteria, acid, and food wastes.
  • In such an acidic condition, demineralization of the tooth takes place, which results in holes and cavities over time.
  • No doubt, our teeth are always in a state of demineralization and remineralization processes. But in a decaying tooth, dissolving of mineral occurs in a rapid rate, and the affected tooth cannot recover.
Types
  • Based on the location, there are two types of tooth decay - pit and fissures caries and smooth surface caries.
  • Also, acute caries (rapid decay) and chronic caries (slow decay) are classified, depending upon the rate of progression.
  • Most people are affected with the chronic type, while acute condition is triggered by certain factors.
  • The causes of rapid decay are attributed to poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, dry mouth, diabetes, and radiation therapy.
Signs
  • It is asymptomatic (not obvious) in the initial stages.
  • The early sign is a chalky spot in the affected tooth portion.
  • This area enlarges and causes holes over a period of time.
  • Besides cavities, another noticeable symptom is unexplainable bad breath.
  • In many patients, tooth decay causes bad breath, bleeding gum, bad taste in the mouth, and sensitivity to cold and hot foods.
Treatment and Prevention
  • If left untreated for a prolonged period, this condition can lead to painful symptoms, toothache, and in severe cases, tooth loss.
  • The treatment option depends on the severity of the dental condition.
  • In the early stage, reversing process can be done with proper dental health care and using products containing fluoride as prescribed by the dentist.
  • In case of cavity formation, the dentist may consider filling the hole with a tooth-filling substance. This procedure is called dental filling.
  • If necessary, root canal treatment, and removal of the affected tooth are recommended.
Tooth decay is easily preventable with basic oral hygiene and a healthy diet. Since the causes include bacteria in sugary foods, make sure you rinse and floss your teeth after having such food items. By doing so, the fermentable food wastes are not retained in the mouth, thus, inhibiting the formation of acids. Majority of the dental caries are manifested due to poor oral hygiene and improper brushing. So, as a preventive measure, one should practice correct dental care routine.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.