Tooth decay in kids silver diamine fluoride

Cavity Guide- Tooth Decay Causes, Symptoms, Treatment +

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure.

Tooth Cavity Guide- Everything you need to know. Causes, signs, symptoms, prevention and treatment

So what exactly is a cavity? We’ve been hearing our whole lives about cavities but do you know what a cavity really is? How to prevent a cavity? The symptoms of a cavity? Treatment for a cavity? Read this guide to find out everything you need know about cavities.

What is a cavity?

A cavity is also known as dental caries or better yet, known as tooth decay. Your teeth have a hard outer layer called enamel. Enamel can break down and decay or soften from the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. When this happens, you get what is known as a cavity.

Tooth decay is a very common chronic disease and is the most common chronic disease in children.

The National Institutes of Health states that tooth decay is one of the most common health disorders in the US, second only to the common cold. According to the CDC, here are some very surprising stats:

Although dental caries are largely preventable, they remain the most common chronic disease of children aged 6 to 11 years and adolescents aged 12 to 19 years. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among adolescents aged 14 to 17 years. Dental caries also affects adults, with 9 out of 10 over the age of 20 having some degree of tooth-root decay

Here, we take a look at cavities and how you can find help for tooth decay.

What does tooth decay look like?

Tooth decay is a gradual process that starts small and gets bigger if no steps are taken to treat it. Most times, a cavity does not cause pain at the onset, making it difficult to recognize that there is a problem.

Oftentimes, people become confused and surprised when they find out that they have tooth decay because of how strictly they maintain a good dental hygiene routine.

Here are some tooth decay images to help you understand what the condition looks like

Tooth decay pictures and images

Tooth decay symptoms and signs

The stage of a cavity in a tooth will determine what tooth decay signs you can experience. Here are some tooth decay symptoms to look out for:

When dental decay is in its early stages, symptoms will not show up but your dentist can detect a cavity during an x-ray or teeth examination.

Now you know why you need to schedule regular visits to your dentist’s office because it is easier to take care of cavities when they are in their beginning stages. The smaller a cavity is, the easier they are too fix. The easier they are too fix, the less money it cost to fix it.

What causes tooth decay? 

Cavity: Risk Factors List:

  1. Poor oral hygiene
  2. Acid reflux disease
  3. Diet: high sugary and acidic foods and drinks
  4. Insufficient fluoride
  5. Bullimia

The buildup of plaque is the principal cause of tooth decay. Food particles, saliva, bacteria, and acid all combine to form plaque. Bacteria is ever-present in the human mouth and converts sugar into acid after you eat and drink sugar-containing foods.

This causes plaque to form on your teeth and is the reason that regular brushing and flossing is highly recommended. It is the acid in the plaque sticking to your teeth that wears off your enamel. Enamel is the outer protective coating that keeps your teeth protected from conditions like cavities. The weakening of the enamel increases your risk of suffering from tooth decay. 

Anyone can get cavities but the risk is higher in some people. Some of the risk factors that increase the possibility of getting tooth decay include consuming drinks and food that are too acidic or sugary, using insufficient amounts of fluoride, and eating disorders like bulimia. Other risk factors also include poor dental hygiene and acid reflux disease.

Tooth decay stages 

Tooth decay stages cavity stages
Tooth decay stages

Cavities are hard to detect at the onset but usually escalate to a point where it leads to tooth loss if left untreated.

Here are 6 stages of decay:

  1. White spots (decalcification)

At the onset of a cavity, chalky white areas start to appear on your tooth’s surface due to plaque buildup. This stage is called decalcification. Plaque & bacteria start to produce acids from sugars in drinks and food that you consume. This causes your enamel to wear down and soften. In this stage of decalcification, the condition may be reversible. Proper treatment methods like applying the right brushing and flossing technique, topical fluoride treatments, and using a fluoridated toothpaste are some possibilities that your dentist will consider.

2. Enamel decay

The next stage of a cavity, your enamel starts to wear off on the tooth’s surface. The process of remineralization becomes unable to properly restore the minerals and enamel, thereby creating a lesion. Your tooth’s surface could start to break up and this process cannot be reversed. Immediate dental attention is required at this stage.

3. Dentin decay

Stage two progresses to dentin decay where bacteria and acids continue the dissolution of the enamel. This can cause the lesion to get to the underlying layer of enamel called dentin. Dentin is much more porous than enamel so once a cavity is in this layer, it spreads quickly. This can cause even more pain in the affected tooth. The weakening of dentin caused by calcium and mineral deficiency, causes your enamel to collapse. This forms a dental cavity which may only be fixed by restorative dental work such as a filling or crown.

4. Pulp problems

The center of your tooth is called the pulp. It comprises living cells and tissue known as odontoblasts. Pulp cells are responsible for producing dentin which connects it to the enamel. When bacteria and tooth decay affects your tooth’s pulp, it forms pus which is fatal to the nerves and blood vessels. What you experience at this point is toothache that comes with persistent pain. Root canal therapy is usually recommended at this stage.

5. Formation of Abscess

This is the most painful stage and happens to be the final episode of tooth decay. The infection, getting to the root of the teeth, can infect the conjoining bones. You could also experience gum and tongue swelling which can limit your speech and other diseases. Your dentist might recommend oral surgery at this stage.

6. Tooth Loss 

Ignoring the cavity throughout the above-mentioned 5 stages can lead to the need for a tooth extraction resulting in tooth loss. Extraction would be done by our dentist or oral surgeon.

How to fix tooth decay 

The first step to getting the right tooth decay treatment is to speak to your dentist about the symptoms you are experiencing such as tooth pain or sensitivity.

An examination will be conducted but may not reveal the cavity in certain cases. A dental x-ray might be needed. Sometimes, like when smaller cavities are in between the teeth, decay can only be detected through an x-ray.

Depending on how severe your tooth decay is, some tooth cavity treatment options include:

  • Fluoride treatment

Tooth decay can be treated using fluoride in the early stages. this is referred to as tooth remineralization. This can restore your enamel and help to avoid decay in the future. Enamelon Fluoride Toothpaste is a strong fluoridated toothpaste you can buy to help strengthen your enamel. Colgate Gel-Kam is an over the counter fluoride gel that helps protect against cavities. This gel builds increasing protection against painful sensitivity of the teeth to cold, heat, acids, sweets or contact. It is safe and effective for hypersensitivity, caries control, and decalcification.

  • Tooth fillings
Before and after cavity filling

Dental fillings are performed at your dental office. Here, the dentist will remove the decayed material from the affected tooth using their special tools. Then, your dentist goes on to fill the area with a filling material such as composite resin, gold, or silver amalgam.

  • Crowns

If the cavity reaches a more severe stage, a custom cap or crown may be placed over your tooth as a replacement for its natural crown. Before commencing the procedure, the decayed tooth matter will be removed. 

  • Root canal

If the decay leads to nerve death, a root canal is performed by your dentist or an endodontist. This procedure involves removing the nerve tissue, decayed areas, as well as blood vessel tissues. An examination is conducted to check for infections before applying medications. Then, a tooth filling or build up is performed and the tooth will most likely need a crown.

Can tooth decay be reversed? 

Reversal of a cavity is not possible because of the inability of the missing tooth structure to grow back once a hole develops. A dental procedure restoration is the only way to solve your problem. But if the structure is still intact and is only weakened, this is a sign of an early cavity. This is called incipient decay. Incipient decay can sometimes be reversed and remineralized with proper steps. Some ways to correct the situation or slow the process down include modifying your diet, adopting better oral hygiene, and using products that contain fluoride.

Dental cavity prevention 

You can prevent tooth decay from occurring in the first place by adopting some techniques and strategies. Here are some things you can do to keep the dental cavity at bay:

  • Good dental hygiene

Make it a habit to brush at least twice daily and get your teeth professionally cleaned and examined every 6 months. Floss daily and have oral examinations and x-rays every year to monitor the health of your teeth. Flossing has many benefits and can clean the area in between your teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach. This can prevent cavities from forming in between the teeth and also prevent gum disease.

  • Cut down on your sugar intake

Reduce how much sugar you consume, especially when it comes to juices and drinks that contain sugar. This can help to prevent tooth decay. Whenever you eat sticky foods, brush your teeth afterwards and use a mouth rinse. Minimize your snack consumption and resist the urge to sip sugary drinks on a regular basis. 

  • Fluoride

It is common knowledge that fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay. This strategy is effective and you can make use of topical fluoride. You should ask your dentist to recommend a good fluoride mouthwash or toothpaste. You might also get it in the form of supplements or in drinking water. Remember to keep a close eye on your kids when using fluoride-containing toothpaste.

Tooth decay in kids 

Tooth decay in kids

Are you concerned about tooth decay in kids? Children and young adults can also suffer cavities. In fact, tooth decay in kids is the most common chronic childhood disease.

Most young people who lose their teeth do so as a result of cavities. A toddler with tooth decay suffers the condition when acid-producing bacteria infects the mouth of the child.

Cavity causing bacteria is transferable from person to person. Saliva passed from caregivers and parents can transmit this tooth decay bacteria.

Other methods of transmission that lead to a child with tooth decay include:

  • Testing food using the child’s utensils then letting the child use the same utensils
  • Pre-chewing food for your children
  • Cleaning a pacifier in your mouth and then giving back to child
  • Your saliva being present or cups and spoons before sharing with the child

Cavities can also occur if the teeth and gums of children come in contact with food and liquid for a long time or most of the day without adequate water.

The sugar in the food and liquid is converted to acid. Then the teeth of the child decay because the acid wears off their enamel. 


Tooth decay is very common. Prevention is key. Apply the right prevention techniques to promote your dental health and protect yourself against tooth decay and cavities. Be sure to visit your dentist regularly to get an exam and dental cleaning. This makes it possible to catch dental caries and dental problems in their early stages. The earlier you can catch tooth decay, the easier it is to treat.

Kelly Hancock, RDH

Kelly is a registered dental hygienist and oral health care provider. She is passionate about oral hygiene and encourages people to achieve optimal oral health. She has been working in the dental profession for 16 years and worked in many different roles in the dental industry. Kelly is currently a pediatric dental hygienist specializing in children’s dentistry. She is committed to helping others with their oral health care issues and helping others achieve a smile they love.

This article and all advice on this website, Toothbrush Life, is intended to help people gain knowledge about general oral health topics. No articles or advice on this website are intended to replace professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or qualified healthcare provider to help you with any questions you have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

2 thoughts on “Cavity Guide- Tooth Decay Causes, Symptoms, Treatment +

  1. Reply
    Betty Peebles - December 7, 2019

    This is a great educational tool for all RDH volunteers . Thanks!

    1. Reply
      Kelly Hancock, RDH - December 8, 2019

      Thank you so much! Do you have a favorite electric toothbrush?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top