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HealthInfo Canterbury

Tooth decay

Tooth decay is the gradual destruction of a tooth caused by bacteria in dental plaque and too much sugar. It's also known as dental caries. The bacteria breaks down sugar into acid and this wears away the tough outer enamel layer of the tooth. This makes a hole that then continues to wear through the softer dentine layer and if left untreated will then go to the nerve of the tooth causing pain and infection.

Regular brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste and avoiding sugar in food and drinks helps to prevent tooth decay. Regular dental checks will pick up on early holes in the outer tooth, which can be cleaned up and filled to prevent further damage to the tooth. This is called a filling.

The photos below show the progression of tooth decay, starting with healthy teeth, and gums (Fig. 2), ranging to deep tooth decay (Fig. 7).

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created October 2018. Last updated April 2019.

See also:

Fillings, crowns & root canals

Looking after teeth & gums

Looking after teeth & gums (babies and children)

Page reference: 75177

Review key: HITDE-75177