Tooth Decay: Causes and Prevention

Tooth decay occurs when the enamel on teeth breaks down, and acids caused by bacteria and sugars in the mouth cause holes or cavities in the teeth. If left untreated, over time, cavities can grow and destroy the whole tooth. This can create the need for a root canal or extraction.

Tooth decay is one of the most common dental, and indeed health, issues in Australia. It is primarily a sign of poor oral hygiene and health.

tooth decay causes and prevention

The Causes of Tooth Decay

The most common cause of tooth decay lies in what we eat and drink. Sugary, sticky and acidic foods all contribute to the breakdown of enamel, opening the door to decay. Here are some other common causes:

  • Poor hygiene: If you don’t brush and floss regularly, you allow plaque build-up, which contain bacteria that eats away at tooth structure.
  • Dry mouth: If you suffer from a perpetually dry mouth, either through medication, genetics or some other issue, you will suffer from an increased rate of tooth decay. Saliva is vital in washing away the plaque that forms in between brushing and flossing.
  • Illnesses: Health problems that cause the acid to flow from your stomach into your mouth will increase the acidity in your mouth and contribute to tooth decay.

The Symptoms of Tooth Decay

The quicker tooth decay is detected and treated, the better your prognosis will be. You need to monitor the health of your teeth to identify tooth decay as early as possible. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Pain: This is the most typical symptom, and a lot of toothaches are caused by cavities and decay.
  • Sensitivity: If a tooth or teeth feel sensitive or tender, you should visit the dentist.
  • Appearance: If you notice any black spots or holes in your teeth, you’ve probably got some decay.
  • Pus: Pus is a sign of decay and an abscess. This is serious, and you need to visit the dentist as soon as possible.
  • Regular checkup with the dentist: to detect any asymptomatic decay or broken/leaking fillings.

Preventing Tooth Decay

As with all medical problems, preventing tooth decay is far better than any treatment. There are many things you can do to avoid or at least mitigate the damage caused by plaque and bacteria.


From the minute that teeth appear, they need to be brushed twice a day. You need to make this a routine, where you clean each surface with an appropriately sized and bristled brush. Your dentist will pass on the best method for your particular teeth.


From the moment teeth touch, they need to be flossed. It’s best to floss after you have brushed, and this should be done at least once a day. You can even floss after each meal to remove debris. Flossing is the only way to remove bacteria that has become trapped between teeth. As such, flossing is a vital part of any healthy oral hygiene routine.


Australian Dental Association (ADA) approved mouthwash is very useful in killing any bacteria that isn’t removed via brushing and flossing. If you do these three things every day, you’ll go a long way towards preventing decay and cavities.


What you do and don’t eat is essential in fighting tooth decay. You should limit sugary, acidic and sticky foods as much as possible. You should also increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and quality proteins. These types of foods will provide the nutrients for healthy and strong teeth and gums.


Unsurprisingly, your lifestyle has a bearing on the health of your teeth. If you exercise, eat healthy food, consume alcohol moderately and refrain from the use of nicotine, you’ll create the kind of oral environment for your teeth and gums to fight bacteria.

Dental Visits

You need to visit your dentist at least twice a year for a scale and clean if you really want to fight decay-causing bacteria. This process is essential in removing tartar. Tartar is plaque that has hardened to the point where it cannot be removed by brushing, flossing or rinsing with mouthwash. Unfortunately, no matter how thorough your home care routine is, or how healthy your diet is, you will accrue plaque which will turn into bacteria. These regular visits are also essential in picking up small amounts of decay before it worsens and causes severe problems ranging from root canal infections to gum disease.

Tooth decay can be adequately treated via a filling procedure but preventing decay in the first place is far more effective. With a good diet, proper care and regular trips to the dentist, you can enjoy a lifetime of healthy, strong teeth.

To Our Valued Patients

After more than 45 years in dentistry, Dr George Olstein has decided to retire at the end of December 2021 so no more new patient appointments for sleep dentistry will be offered after the end of November 2021.The dental surgery will continue to operate, so if you have any questions then please – click here to contact us.