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Dental caries: causes, symptoms, management and prevention

29 July 2022by Shiv

Unhealthy eating habits have made tooth decay, one of the leading dental problems. Nowadays, tooth decay even occurs at a tender age of 2-3 years, mainly because of the sugary items such as candies and chocolates, that children consume with pleasure. However, not just the children, tooth decay can occur at any age and is widely prevalent in today’s scenario. The reason for developing caries is simple; the sugary food items get stuck in and around your teeth. It serves as a propagation ground for bacteria which eats up your teeth and leads to the formation of a hole in your tooth which is popularly known as dental caries or tooth decay.


What are dental caries?

Dental caries, or more commonly known as tooth decay, refers to the areas in your teeth that are permanently damaged due to the action of certain bacteria. These decayed areas ultimately develop tiny holes in your teeth which are known as cavities. Therefore, dental caries and cavities are interchangeably used. These may cause many complications if the infection spreads to adjacent areas or involves the root canal of the tooth. It would be best if you get it treated as the earliest possible.


What causes dental caries?

Dental caries do not develop in a day; it is a slow and progressive process. As per the acidogenic theory of tooth decay, four factors are prerequisite for the development of dental caries. These include- A tooth surface that is vulnerable to infection, a microorganism (most commonly Streptococcus mutans), suitable sugar or carbohydrate substrate, and time.

The process of decay goes as follows-

  • Plaque formation– Plaque is a film formed over your teeth due to excessive intake of sugary food items and not cleaning your teeth adequately. It serves as a ground for bacteria where they start multiplying. Sometimes, the plaque gets hardened eventually and forms a thick layer of debris which is known as tartar. It especially forms in the area surrounding the gums. It is very difficult to remove by simple brushing and so bacteria keeps on colonising and degrading your teeth.
  • Enamel erosion- The outermost layer of your teeth, which is the enamel gets denuded by the action of acid released by the bacteria. This marks the initiation of cavity formation. The bare areas expose the inner layers of your tooth to the bacterial acids, and this leads to the development of sensitivity. Every time you eat a sugary item, the bacteria become more active and release an acid, which results in sharp pain in your tooth.
  • Cavity formation- This continuous insult to your teeth by the bacterial acid ultimately leads to permanent damage and cavities in your teeth. The infection even reaches the root canal of your tooth through which it relates the neuromuscular structures leading to pain and discomfort. The pain is so severe because the dental pulp is swollen and compresses all the nearby structures. The pain sometimes also radiates to the surrounding bone.


What are the symptoms of dental caries?

The symptoms depend on the stage and extent of your tooth decay. However, you need to get it treated so because it may lead to further severe complications. Here are some of the symptoms which are indicative of tooth decay.

  1. Toothache- Sudden onset sharp pain in your tooth, sometimes radiating to the bone without any known or identified cause should be suspected as tooth decay.
  2. Sensitivity- Insidious development of sensitivity which increases after sweet and sugary food items intake. It manifests as mild to moderate sharp pain after eating anything hot, cold, or sweet.
  3. Staining- You may notice some black, of brown patches on your teeth which are indicative of underlying necrosis. These are small and may or may not be appreciated by you.
  4. Cavities- Due to non-specific symptoms, you may not notice while the damage to your teeth is occurring. You may see it only after a cavity is formed. At this point, irreversible damage is already done to your tooth.


How will a dentist manage dental caries?

As soon as you experience any of the above symptoms, consult your dentist about its management. Sometimes, symptoms are not evident until extensive damage has been done. This is the reason why we highly recommend regular dental checkups as a part of your oral care routine. Your dentist can identify the lesions much earlier, and your tooth can be saved. He can also suggest how to prevent tooth decay and motivate you to adopt healthy habits. 

However, if you have already developed a cavity, your dentist will help in restoring your tooth. Management depends on the extent of the decay. X-rays are often used to identify this. This cavity is most commonly filled with a filling material which can be a silver amalgam or the recently advanced white fillings

If your root canal has been involved, your dentist will perform a root canal treatment followed by filling and crown placement.


How can you prevent dental caries?

Dental caries can be prevented by taking a few small and easy precautions.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day- This seems like a very insignificant step but can help you tremendously when it comes to prevention of tooth decay. As you know that the basic requirement for tooth decay is plaque formation. If you deter plaque formation, the entire process of decay is interrupted, and your teeth will stay healthy. Use a good fluoride toothpaste and brush your teeth by the correct method.
  • Flush your mouth after every meal- It is recommended to brush your teeth twice a day, but you eat throughout the day and so the risk of food particles getting stuck on your mouth remains in the day as well. Therefore, you should flush your mouth with water after every meal and clean it thoroughly.
  • Avoid junk food- The junk food, as the name indicates, is unhealthy in every aspect. They get stuck in your teeth and are difficult to remove. Minimise your intake of soft drinks, chocolates, candies, pizza and other unhealthy foods. Eat more vegetables and fruits which boost the flow of your saliva, which is a natural antibiotic for your mouth.
  • Routine dental checkup- Don’t miss your regular dental checkups. They are imperative to maintain good oral health and prevent dental caries.


Dental caries is very common, but if you follow your dental hygiene religiously, it can be easily impeded. Keep in touch with your dentist who will guide you and help you in keeping good oral health. If you want to see the best dentist in High Wycombe for your teeth, visit Conway House dental practice. Here, we have a team of professionals, well trained in taking care of your dental needs. Book a routine checkup today by calling 01494526578.

We are a friendly team of dentists, hygienists and receptionists who work together to ensure that you receive the best treatment you require.

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