Tooth decay is an infection in your tooth that results from excessive plaque and tartar, and cavities are the holes that form in your teeth as tooth decay spreads. When you understand tooth decay, you can more effectively prevent it, and prevent cavities from destroying your healthy tooth structure (or costing you a tooth). If decay does develop, then your dentist may spot it early enough during a routine checkup and cleaning to treat the cavity before it becomes a significant problem.
How Tooth Decay Causes Cavities
Your teeth are comprised of layers, and the decay that rots them occurs in stages, slowly breaking down each of a tooth’s layers. The outer shell, or enamel, of your tooth is the strongest substance your body produces. Over time, though, the foods and beverages you consume can feed oral bacteria—particularly those that convert sugars and starches into acids. In excess, these acids can erode your enamel until it develops a small hole, allowing the germs to reach your tooth’s more sensitive main structure, called dentin.
Protect Your Teeth from Tooth Decay and Cavities
Mild to moderate cavities can typically be restored with a tooth-colored dental filling, while more severe cases could require root canal treatment or a tooth extraction. To prevent the need for restorative treatment, be sure to brush your teeth at least twice every day, and floss at least once, preferably before going to sleep at night. If you notice that your tooth feels sensitive, or that it begins to appear darker in a certain area, then schedule a visit as soon as possible to determine if a cavity is developing.