Common Causes of Tooth Decay and How to Prevent It

tooth hot & cold

Tooth decay is a common dental problem that affects people of all ages. It can cause pain, discomfort, and even tooth loss. Understanding the common causes of tooth decay and how to prevent it can help you maintain good oral health and avoid dental problems. This article will look at some common causes of tooth decay, its symptoms, stages, treatment, and how to prevent it.


Table of Contents:

What is Tooth Decay?

Common Causes of Tooth Decay

Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Stages of Tooth Decay

Treatment for Tooth Decay

How to Prevent Tooth Decay



What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth. It occurs when plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth, interacts with sugar and starches in our food. This interaction produces acids that attack tooth enamel and cause cavities.


Common Causes of Tooth Decay

  • Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of tooth decay. Not brushing your teeth regularly and correctly can lead to the buildup of plaque and bacteria, which can cause tooth decay.

  • Sugar and Starches

Consuming sugary and starchy foods and drinks can also cause tooth decay. Bacteria in plaque convert sugar and starches into acids that attack tooth enamel and cause cavities.

  • Dry Mouth

Saliva helps neutralize acids produced by plaque and wash away food particles. When bacteria are not washed away, plaque and tartar collect. Dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, staining, and enamel erosion. 

  • Acidic Foods and Drinks

Consuming acidic foods and drinks such as citrus fruits, soda, and sports drinks can erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay.

  • Genetics

Genetics can also play a role in tooth decay. Some people are more susceptible to tooth decay due to their genes. Although cavities and tooth decay are not technically genetic problems, the same family members often have similar issues with decay. One of the possible reasons is children who watch their parents learn oral health habits early on.


Symptoms of Tooth Decay

In the early stages, tooth decay may not cause any symptoms. However, as it progresses, you may experience the following:


  1. Tooth sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods and drinks.
  2. Pain or discomfort when biting down or chewing.
  3. Visible pits or holes in the teeth.
  4. Brown, black, or white staining on the surface of the tooth.


Stages of Tooth Decay


A decay will progressively worsen and displays different symptoms when left untreated. Here are the various stages of tooth decay and how to treat each:

  1. White Spots: The earliest stage of tooth decay is the formation of white spots on the tooth surface. This is an indication that the enamel is beginning to weaken.
  2. Enamel Decay: When left untreated, the decay will progress, and the enamel will start to break down, leading to cavities.
  3. Dentin Decay: If the cavity continues progressing, it will reach the dentin, the soft layer of the tooth beneath the enamel.
  4. Pulp Damage: Once the decay reaches the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels, it can cause pain and lead to infection.
  5. Tooth infection: In the final stage of tooth decay, bacteria will accumulate in the decaying pulp and infect the tooth. You might experience inflamed gums, abscesses, and cheek swelling because of the spread of bacteria.


Treatment for Tooth Decay

The treatment for tooth decay depends on the stage and severity of the decay. Treatment options include:

  1. Fluoride Treatment: In the early stages, a fluoride treatment may be sufficient to remineralize the enamel and prevent further decay.
  2. Fillings: A cavity has formed if the decay has progressed beyond the enamel and into the dentin. Therefore, a filling may be necessary to restore the tooth.
  3. Root Canal: A root canal may be necessary to remove the infected tissue and save the tooth if the decay has reached the tooth’s pulp.
  4. Extraction: If root canal treatment and a dental crown do not save the tooth, extraction may be necessary to prevent further damage.
  5. Dental Crown: If the decay is extensive and a filling or root canal is insufficient, a dental crown may be necessary to restore the tooth.


How to Prevent Tooth Decay


Now that you know some common causes of tooth decay, let’s discuss how to prevent it. Here are some steps you can take to keep your teeth healthy and prevent decay:


  • Brush your teeth twice a day with toothpaste.

Make sure to brush for at least two minutes each time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and replace it every three to four months or sooner if the bristles become frayed.


  • Floss daily.

Flossing helps remove food particles and plaque from between your teeth, where your toothbrush can’t reach. It helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease as it helps stop bacteria buildup in the mouth. 


  • Limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks.

These foods and drinks can contribute to the growth of bacteria in your mouth and the development of tooth decay. Acid is produced when the bacteria in your mouth break down the sugar, and then the acid dissolves the tooth surface, marking the first stage of tooth decay.


  • Use mouthwash.

Rinsing with mouthwash can help strengthen your teeth and prevent decay. Mouthwash freshens bad breath, helps reduce plaque and gingivitis, fights tooth decay, and prevents cavities.


  • Visit your dentist regularly.

Regular dental checkups and cleanings can help detect and prevent tooth decay before it becomes a more severe problem. Your dentist can also provide you with tips on how to improve your oral hygiene.




Tooth decay is a common problem, but it’s also a preventable one. By understanding the common causes of tooth decay and taking steps to prevent it, you can keep your teeth healthy and avoid costly dental treatments. Remember to brush and floss regularly, limit sugary and acidic foods and drinks, and visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. 


If you do develop tooth decay, don’t hesitate to seek treatment. The earlier you catch and treat tooth decay, the better your chances of preserving your natural teeth. Contact Eastman Dental Group today to schedule an appointment and keep your smile healthy.