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Tooth decay is one of the most common health issues in the world. Did you know that over 3.6 billion people worldwide have experienced some form of tooth decay? Fear not however – this common dental problem has a myriad of effective treatments. Also, it is relatively easy to prevent by following a few simple processes.

We have created a tooth decay master guide. We understand the importance of dental hygiene and want to share our knowledge with you, so that you can benefit and learn how to prevent tooth decay. We look at what tooth decay is, how it is caused, and how to stop tooth decay from spreading – we even share some tooth decay pictures, so that you can identify this problem quickly. Once you have read this guide, your knowledge of tooth decay should be exceptional!

Tooth decay explained

In it’s simplest form, tooth decay is described as:

“A breakdown of teeth due to excess acids produced by bacteria”

Bacteria are biological cells that feed continually. Bacteria within our mouth feeds on food particles and sugars. This process creates acid. That acid steadily breaks down the enamel, cementum, and dentin of our teeth. This breakdown causes tooth decay – our teeth physically deteriorate as the acid continues to dissolve the materials they are made of.

What are the main causes of tooth decay?

Tooth decay is caused in a variety of ways. Understanding how you get tooth decay, is the first step in preventing it. The three main causes are poor hygiene, an imbalanced diet, and excessive alcohol and smoking:

Poor dental hygiene

This is often the primary cause of tooth decay. If you don’t brush your teeth, floss, and use mouthwash, the bacteria in your mouth will multiply. Bacteria is often present in our mouth and is harmless. The key point is the quantity and concentration. Usually, bacteria is only present in small concentrations. When this concentration changes, tooth decay can occur. Due to this fact, those with poor dental hygiene are more susceptible to tooth decay. If you only brush your teeth periodically, and never use mouthwash, the bacteria will multiply and cause complications.  

An imbalanced diet

Isn’t it funny how many health problems are caused due to a poor diet? An unhealthy diet is another major cause of tooth decay. Specifically, eating too much sugar and starch. It is common knowledge that excessive sugar is bad for our teeth. Here is a fact that will blow your mind however – it is not the sugar itself that causes the damage.

Sugar is a mineral that bacteria feeds upon – as the bacteria feeds, it creates acid which is responsible for causing tooth decay and eroding your teeth’s natural enamel and protection. People, therefore, who have a high-sugar diet, are more prone to tooth decay. We know the usual culprits – sugary drinks, sweets, and chocolate. When consumed in excess on a regular basis, your chance of tooth decay is much higher.

Excessive alcohol and smoking

Finally we have alcohol and smoking. Alcohol often has a high sugar content. For example, a pint of Fosters contains 13.5g of sugar – equivalent to just under 30% of your daily recommended dosage. If you regularly drink alcohol or even binge drink, the sugars you consume can cause and speed up the spread of tooth decay.

Smoking and tobacco also cause tooth decay, but in a different way. There is no sugar content, but smoking, or chewing tobacco, affects our gums and saliva. Firstly, smoking can loosen our gums – this allows excess bacteria to find its way into our teeth. Secondly, smoking can affect our saliva production – this allows bacteria to settle easily on our teeth. Both problems can hasten tooth decay.

What are the potential complications from tooth decay?

Understanding how tooth decay is caused allows you to prevent it. But how can you spot this condition? What can you do to prevent tooth decay? In the paragraphs below, we discuss the standard progression for tooth decay. We also look at the potential side effects:

Usual progression of tooth decay

Before we look at tooth decay treatment, it is important you understand how tooth decay usually occurs. There are 5 common steps that occur once you get tooth decay. These may vary depending on the severity of the case, and the immune system of the person:

1. White lesions and de-materialization

Tooth decay is first visible by small white or grey spots on your teeth. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s some toothpaste left on your teeth! These lesions are areas of your tooth that have started to wear down – the enamel is literally de-materializing.  

2. Teeth become soft and discolored

As the decay worsens, the tooth starts to discolor. Furthermore, a cavity can form. Your affected teeth could turn brown or yellow – this is a sign of the decay worsening as it enters the central structure of your teeth. In addition to this, your teeth become soft.

Example of tooth decay
Example of tooth decay

3. Increased pain and sensitivity to different foods

Once the tooth decay is at this stage, you will notice discomfort. Furthermore, you may also experience reactions to certain food types. Basically, your tooth becomes hyper sensitive. This initial pain may not be constant and it can be managed using pain medication such as paracetamol. Pain can also spread to the gums which can lead to gum trouble.

4. Teeth can potentially fracture

As the tooth becomes weak, it could suddenly fracture and break. This could happen even when chewing soft or normal food. If you eat hard and abrasive foods with toothache, the chance of fractures is increased.

5. Pain turns into toothache and even infection

The final stage is toothache. Toothache happens when the decay has infected the central portion of your teeth i.e. the pulp. Once this happens, you will experience a continual pain and aching. The tooth may no longer react to sensitivity, but any pressure applied can cause increased pain.

Side effects from tooth decay

Aside from pain and infection, tooth decay can also lead to bad breath and discomfort when eating. The excess bacteria in your mouth causes this odor and it can be unpleasant. If you are conscious about your breath, this is another reason why finding effective tooth decay treatment is necessary.

Discomfort whilst eating can affect your diet. If the pain is that bad, you may become reluctant to eat – obviously reducing your diet could lead to other non-related health complications. This is why gaining medical advice as quickly as possible is vital – you can prevent these side effects and get your teeth sorted!


In extreme cases, it should be noted that tooth decay can spread to the soft tissue surrounding your mouth. This can result in complications such as Ludwig Angina, and Sinus Thrombosis. Complications such as this are extremely rare however – but it still presents reasons why you should take action as soon as possible!  

Tooth decay treatment – how to keep your teeth in perfect condition

If you start to see symptoms of tooth decay, what can you do to stop the progression and protect your teeth? The key is to diagnose the problem early with regular dental check-ups. A dentist checks your teeth for early signs of tooth decay.

Furthermore, they give simple preventative treatments such as a scale and polish. Aside from dental check-ups, there is a range of tooth decay treatment options. We have split these into preventative measures, and actual dental treatment:

Preventative measures

When we look at how to prevent tooth decay, the main option is preventative measures. Never having tooth decay in the first place is obviously the best-case scenario! Although tooth decay treatment is reliable, most people prefer not to take a trip to the dentist and undergo procedures. Therefore preventative measures are the best option. Would you rather clean your teeth and eat a healthy diet, or pay for extensive dental treatment?  

Maintaining a strict oral hygiene routine

In most cases, any oral issues are prevented via simply looking after your teeth. This might sound basic, but it’s a proven effective method. Our teeth need our help – if you sit back, and let nature take its course, your teeth will become damaged. Moreover, you will have poor oral hygiene which can lead to other complications aside from tooth decay.

The best method of how to prevent tooth decay, is to maintain a strict oral hygiene routine.

This includes:

- Brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice per day
- Using anti-bacterial mouthwash to remove excess bacteria
- Using floss or an interdental brush once per day

This might seem like a chore – we understand that it can be tedious, but it is an essential part of tooth decay prevention. It is important that you teach your children this same routine – if they understand the importance of protecting their teeth, they are more inclined to brush them properly. Furthermore, when they see their parents using oral hygiene, they will emulate that behavior as children commonly do.

How can you make oral hygiene a part of your daily routine? Simply by doing that – making it part of your daily routine. Incorporate brushing and flossing into your usual daily activities. You could even set specific times for you and your family. Moreover, try and make the activities fun for your children or give them some kind of incentive.      

Toothbrush for tooth decay treatment

Cutting down on sugars

You guessed this was coming surely? Aside from oral hygiene, what else could you possibly do to prevent tooth decay? Improving your diet of course! It’s the classic dental duo – hygiene and diet. This may seem like a broken record, but it really does work!

Your diet has a huge impact on your dental health. It is also one of the best ways of how to stop tooth decay from spreading.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is a top method of tooth decay treatment

What does this specifically entail?

- Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet
- Reducing the amount of starch in your diet
- Cut down on food in-between meals times and before bed

The main point is to cut down on sugar in your diet. The obvious culprits are sweets, chocolate, and sugary drinks. If you continually drink fizzy drinks, and eat sugar your teeth will become worn down. Furthermore, plaque builds up which attacks the enamel on your teeth.

Foods with a high concentration to starch are also detrimental and can contribute to tooth decay. The key, as with anything relating to diet is moderation. You don’t have to cut out sugar and starch completely, but you must monitor your intake. Eating a healthy diet helps reduce the strain and damage caused to your teeth.  

Dental treatment

Whilst preventative measures are the best form of tooth decay treatment, dental treatment may be required. The key is to try and catch the tooth decay before it spreads and causes too much damage. There is a range of dental treatment available – from simple fluoride gel, through to root canal procedures and extraction:

Fluoride Gel

The first form of tooth decay treatment is the application of fluoride gel. Fluoride is a substance that helps the re- calcification of teeth enamel. If the dentist finds early stages of tooth decay, fluoride gel is applied to the affected areas. This treatment is generally used once or twice per year, but again depends on the individual person and situation.

Applying fluoride gel helps re-build enamel. Furthermore, it can promote growth of the areas of teeth damaged by tooth decay. It is important to understand that this is not a permanent form of treatment – if your teeth are badly damaged from tooth decay, fluoride gel has limited success.

This treatment can be self-applied at home, or by a dentist. If applying the gel at home, it is important to take extreme care. Fluoride gel can cause stomach upsets and vomiting if swallowed. Furthermore, due to the strength of the gel, it is not used as one of the child tooth decay treatment options. Generally, it should not be administered to children under 6 years old.    

Fillings / Crowns

If the tooth decay has progressed past the stage of fluoride gel treatment, the next option is usually a filling or crown. Both of these tooth decay treatments aim to replace the part of the tooth that has worn away. Furthermore, they also provide protection for the remaining part of the tooth. Both filings and crown procedures are performed at a dentist surgery. In most instances, local anesthetic is used to numb the affected area and prevent pain during the process.

Fillings – You have undoubtedly heard of fillings or “restorations” – you may even have one or two! Fillings are the primary form of tooth decay treatment. A filling is essentially a piece of shaped material that fits inside the cavity within your tooth caused by tooth decay. Fillings are made from varying materials depending on the quality. Common materials used include composite resin, porcelain, gold, and amalgam. Amalgam is the most common material – it is a combination of various metals including tin, copper, and silver. Fillings are used when tooth decay has progressed further than fluoride gel treatment, but before the tooth structure is too badly damaged.

Crowns – If the tooth decay has caused damage to the structure of your teeth, a crown or cap could be applied. A crown is essentially a protective covering for your tooth. During this procedure, excess parts of decayed tooth are removed to provide a clean surface from which the crown is attached. The crown is then attached and forms a covering over your tooth. Crowns are usually made from porcelain, ceramic, glass, or gold.

Dentist giving local anaesthetic
Dentist giving local anaesthetic

Root Canal treatment

Tooth decay can progress to the interior of your teeth – this is known as the pulp. If this is the case, the first option is to have a root canal procedure. A root canal procedure is the last step before tooth extraction. A dentist will generally try to save your tooth through a root canal treatment to prevent the need for extraction.

During the procedure, the root canal within your tooth is treated and cleared. The main aim is to remove the decay, and any residual bacteria that is present. Root canal treatments are also used to remove tooth infection. Once the canal is clear, the tooth is then re-sealed with either a crown or a filing. If infection is present, the dentist may also prescribe a course of antibiotics.  

Tooth extraction

If the decay is extensive, there may be no other option than to remove the tooth. This is literally a last-resort tooth decay treatment. Dentists always try to keep your teeth. This is the best solution as your natural teeth provide the best protection and functionality for your mouth.

As with both fillings and root canal treatments, extraction involves local anesthetic. It is very rare for general anesthetic to be administered – if the procedure is going to be lengthy, or the patient has learning disabilities, there may be an exception. Furthermore, if you feel particularly anxious or stressed, a sedative can be requested.

Once the local anesthetic is administered, the dentist widens the gums surrounding the tooth. This is so that the tooth can be extracted easier, and without damaging the gums. Next, the dentist physically removes the tooth using surgical tools. The process is painless, but you may feel a pulling sensation – don’t be alarmed, it’s part of the procedure.

After the tooth extraction, care must be given so that the open wound heals properly. Remember that you will literally have a hole in your gum, where your tooth was. Aftercare involves using antibacterial mouthwash – this can help remove any infection and excess food build up. It is also advisable to refrain from drinking hot drinks, or eating food that could cause a sensitive reaction to your teeth. Finally, it is advised to eat only soft foods for 24 hours after the procedure – hard foods could re-open the wound and cause bleeding.      

Dentures

If several teeth have to be removed, there is an option to have dentures. Dentures are not considered a form of tooth decay treatment, but they are part of the process. If several teeth have been removed due to tooth decay, there is obviously a gap left in your mouth. Some people would leave this gap and continue as normal. Others may want to replace their teeth. Furthermore, if a large portion of teeth have been removed, dentures may be required so that the person can still chew normal and eat food.

For whatever reason, dentures replace extracted teeth that have been damaged by tooth decay. The main types of dentures are listed below:

- Complete dentures
- Partial dentures
- Bridges

Complete dentures replace a whole row of teeth. Complete dentures could be used in extreme cases of tooth decay where a person has lost most of their upper or lower teeth.

Pair of dentures

Partial dentures replace one or several missing teeth. These are less obtrusive and are often used for mild cases of tooth decay in which only a few teeth have been removed.

Finally we have bridges. A bridge is a set of single artificial teeth joined together. For example, you may have a case of tooth decay where two teeth require crowns, and the middle tooth needs to be removed. A bridge could contain two crowns, and a full artificial tooth for the removed item.

During the process to acquire dentures, molds of your mouth and teeth have to be taken. This is so that suitable sized dentures can be produced. The requirement for dentures are a case-by-case basis and depend on the individual situation, and the person involved.

Cost of tooth decay treatment

Tooth decay treatment often comes with a cost. In some countries, treatment for children is free. In the UK, for example, children and teenagers under the age of 18 are exempt from paying for tooth decay treatment. Costs vary throughout the world – to give you a better idea of the costs involved, we have gathered information on treatment prices in a variety of countries:

Fillings

Singapore – 75-100 SGD
Australia – 150-280 AUD
New Zealand – 125-230 NZD
United Kingdom – 62.10 GBP
United States – 117-200 USD
Canada – 80-350 CAD
Norway – 500-1500 NOK

Root Canal

Singapore – 350 SGD
Australia – 130-410 AUD
New Zealand – 990-1300 NZD
United Kingdom – 62.10 GBP
United States – 695-750 USD
Canada – 800-900 CAD
Norway – 2500-3500 NOK

Tooth Extraction

Singapore – 50-250 SGD
Australia – 185-200 AUD
New Zealand – 190-250 NZD
United Kingdom – 269.30 GBP
United States – 290-320 USD
Canada – 140+ CAD
Norway – 1000-2000 NOK

Stop tooth decay before it gets out of control

We hope you have found this information useful! We know that learning about dental hygiene can be tedious – it’s not exactly the most riveting or entertaining subject! If you can take away anything from this article and learn how to prevent tooth decay, we call it a success!

As mentioned above, it is important to understand how to stop tooth decay from spreading, and how to prevent it even happening. Prevention is the best form of treatment – we can’t stress this enough! If you and your family get into the habit of regularly brushing and flossing, you should never get tooth decay. Furthermore, if you cut down on those sugary drinks and snacks, your dentist checkups will be quick and painless! Isn’t this everyone’s dream?

If you do have tooth decay, be reassured that there is a myriad of useful treatments available. No matter what the stage of decay, something can be done. From fluoride gel to tooth extraction – tooth decay can be beaten! If you think you have early signs of tooth decay, it is always advisable to seek the advice of a dentist – they can recommend the best tooth decay treatment and help you prevent any further spread.