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Tooth Decay (Dental Caries)

The decay of a tooth, in which it becomes softened, discolored, and/or porous.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Tooth Decay

Tooth decay (also called cavities or caries) is caused by bacteria, sweet foods and drinks, and a lack of oral hygiene. It can harm your teeth and cause a lot of pain, and may even result in loss of teeth.

Today tooth decay is much less common than it was just a few decades ago. That is mostly due to better oral hygiene and more people using fluoride toothpaste, which goes to show that there are a number of things you can do to improve the health of your teeth and prevent cavities.

Symptoms

White or brown spots on your teeth are the first sign of tooth decay. If it gets worse, holes develop on the surface of the teeth (cavities), and if the deeper layers of the teeth are affected, tooth decay can also harm the nerves in the teeth and the root. Then the teeth become sensitive and painful — especially when eating anything cold or sweet. Tooth decay can cause so much damage to the teeth that it may no longer be possible to save them... Read more about Tooth Decay

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents

Children who brush their teeth at least once a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride will have less tooth decay.

Adhesively or non‐adhesively bonded amalgam restorations for dental caries

Tooth decay is a common problem affecting both children and adults. Cavities form in the teeth by the action of acid producing bacteria present in dental plaque.

Combinations of topical fluoride (toothpastes, mouthrinses, gels, varnishes) versus single topical fluoride for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents

Additional forms of topical fluoride can reduce tooth decay in children and adolescents more than fluoride toothpaste alone, but the extra benefit is not great.

See all (166)

Summaries for consumers

Fluoride toothpastes for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents

Children who brush their teeth at least once a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride will have less tooth decay.

Adhesively or non‐adhesively bonded amalgam restorations for dental caries

Tooth decay is a common problem affecting both children and adults. Cavities form in the teeth by the action of acid producing bacteria present in dental plaque.

Combinations of topical fluoride (toothpastes, mouthrinses, gels, varnishes) versus single topical fluoride for preventing dental caries in children and adolescents

Additional forms of topical fluoride can reduce tooth decay in children and adolescents more than fluoride toothpaste alone, but the extra benefit is not great.

See all (63)

More about Tooth Decay

Photo of a child

Also called: Cavities, Dental cavities, Holes in the teeth

Other terms to know:
Dental Enamel

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