Genesis Family Dentistry

Understanding the Process of Tooth Decay

Have you ever woken up to tooth pain or bitten down on something hard or sweet just to grab your mouth in pain? 

Tooth decay is a common reason for tooth pain. However, the decay doesn’t just appear because you bit into something the wrong way. Tooth decay is a gradual process that unfortunately most people don’t pay attention to until it’s too late.

Luckily, there are signs so you and your dentist can monitor the process of tooth decay.

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay, dental caries, and cavities are all words for the same problem. Tooth decay is permanent damage on the tooth’s surface that develops into tiny openings. It destroys the enamel and then enters the tooth. When decay spreads, it causes more damage and can affect deeper layers of the teeth.

How tooth decay occurs

Decay is caused by the buildup of plaque, a sticky substance that sits on the surface of the tooth’s enamel. If plaque is not promptly and adequately removed, the bacteria and acids within plaque eat away at the enamel. Once the enamel breaks down, a cavity or hole forms in the tooth.


Children and adults are susceptible to tooth decay. Cavities do not discriminate. While the process goes through phases and worsens with time, certain habits can increase the likelihood of decay.

Poor oral habits commonly lead to decay and cavities. When plaque and bacteria are not thoroughly removed through regular brushing and flossing, the acids in plaque attack the tooth. Diets high in sugars increase the possibility of decay since the sugars and starches stick to the teeth and essentially feed the bacteria.


The symptoms of tooth decay may vary from patient to patient. Some patients never even recognize the signs of a problem until the decay has spread deep within the tooth causing significant pain. Common tooth decay symptoms include:

  • Toothache
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures or to sugary substances
  • Brown or black spots on the tooth
  • Visible holes or pits on the tooth’s surface
  • Pain when biting down

The process of tooth decay

Tooth decay doesn’t magically appear. It is a gradual process that occurs in phases. There are five stages of tooth decay. The process includes:

  • Demineralization – In the beginning stages, the enamel begins to break down causing white spots on the teeth.
  • Enamel decay – As the decay progresses, the white spots begin to turn brown and cavities may form.
  • Dentin decay – Dentin is softer than the hard enamel. Once the dentin is reached, decay progresses at a faster pace.
  • Pulp damage – The tooth pulp is deep inside the tooth and contains the nerves and blood vessels. If the pulp is damaged, the tooth may swell and cause pain.
  • Tooth abscess – As damage spreads through the pulp, the area can become infected and create a pocket of pus at the bottom of the tooth. A tooth abscess must be promptly treated and may lead to tooth loss.

How to prevent tooth decay

Although it is extremely common, tooth decay is also preventable. To keep your teeth healthy, consider the following tips to prevent cavities.

Maintain good oral hygiene

Following a good oral routine is crucial for overall oral health and to prevent decay. Remember the these practices for good oral hygiene:

  • Brush twice daily for two minutes per session.
  • Floss once per day.
  • Use mouthwash.
  • Use a new toothbrush or toothbrush head every 3-6 months.

Eat a tooth-healthy diet

As mentioned above, a diet high in sugars and starches provides a feeding ground for the plaque and bacteria in your mouth. Instead, make wise dietary choices, such as:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Lean protein sources

Additionally, reduce the number of snacks you consume as more snacks produce more plaque for the teeth. If you do snack, consider healthy choices from the list above.

Drink plenty of water

Water isn’t just the best drink for your overall health but also for your oral health. 

When you take a sip of water, it actually helps to clean your teeth. Each drink of water helps to rinse the teeth and washes away some of the bacteria on your teeth. Water also helps reduce dry mouth which can increase the risk of tooth decay. If your water is fluoridated, as many municipal waters are, the water can help strengthen and rebuild your tooth’s enamel.

Visit your dentist 

Routine dental care includes preventive and restorative treatments to protect your oral health. Routine dental exams are a crucial part of catching and treating issues early. Early diagnosis of a problem usually results in earlier treatment. 

If your dentist notices signs of decay, she may recommend treatments to keep the damage from spreading. Possible preventive treatments may include dental sealants or fluoride treatments to protect the teeth. Restorative procedures may include dental fillingsroot canals, and, in severe cases, tooth extractions.

Tooth decay prevention and treatment in Uptown Charlotte

You can prevent the decay process from progressing and forming a cavity. By brushing your teeth regularly with a fluoride toothpaste and visiting your dentist for routine appointments, you lessen the likelihood of cavities.

If you are ready to take control of your oral health and want to prevent dental cavities, reach out to Genesis Family Dentistry. With advanced technologies and treatments, our team provides tooth decay treatment in Uptown Charlotte near Plaza Midwood. Ask us how we can help you get the healthy smile you deserve today!