About Enamel

Dental Caries

All About Dental Caries & Tooth Decay

What are Dental Caries?

Dental caries are small holes in the tooth also known as cavities. They’re caused when bacteria in your mouth make acids that attack the tooth’s surface enamel. If caries are not treated, it can cause pain, infection and even tooth loss.1

People of all ages are at risk of tooth decay. Young children are prone to ‘early childhood caries’, also known as baby bottle tooth decay, which is severe tooth decay in baby teeth. Older adults often experience receding gums, which allows decay-causing bacteria in the mouth to come into contact with the tooth’s root. This can cause decay on the exposed root surfaces of the teeth.1

Dental caries and tooth decay are a major health concern worldwide and currently a big problem in the UK. Despite being preventable, it’s one of the most common reasons for hospital admission for children.4

Symptoms of Dental Caries

Common symptoms of dental caries include:2

  • Toothache. Either continuous pain keeping you awake or occasional sharp pain without an obvious cause.
  • Tooth Sensitivity. You may feel tenderness or pain when eating or drinking something hot, cold, or sweet.
  • Discolouration. Grey, brown, or black spots appearing on your teeth.
  • Bad breath. An unpleasant smell in your mouth.
  • Bad Taste. An unpleasant taste in your mouth.

How to Treat Dental Caries

There are several methods used to treat dental caries and tooth decay. Dental caries treatment includes:2

  • A Filling or Crown. This involves removing the dental decay and filling the hole or covering the tooth.
  • A Root Canal. This involves removing tooth decay that’s spread to the centre of the tooth where the blood and nerves (pulp) are.
  • Tooth Extraction. This usually happens when the tooth is badly damaged and cannot be restored. A missing tooth can always be replaced with a denture, bridge, or implant.

How to Prevent Dental Caries

There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid future dental caries and tooth decay, whilst keeping your gums as healthy as possible:2

  • Visit your dentist regularly. They will decide how often they need to see you based on the condition of your mouth, gums, and teeth.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary and starchy food and drink. Particularly between meals or within an hour of going to bed. Some medicines can also contain sugar, so it’s best to consume sugar-free alternatives.
  • Look after your teeth and gums. Brush your teeth properly with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and use floss or an interdental brush at least once a day.
  • Visit your dentist or GP if you have a persistently dry mouth. This may be caused by certain medicines, treatments, or medical conditions.
  • Drink more tap water. This can help reduce tooth decay significantly due to its added fluoride content, which is a natural tooth-strengthening mineral. Bottled water doesn’t contain fluoride; therefore, you’ll miss the fluoride benefits.3
  • Eat tooth-friendly foods. Some food and drinks are better for your teeth than others. Avoid foods that get stuck in your teeth for long periods of time such as popcorn. Eat more foods which help increase saliva flow, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Unsweetened tea, coffee, and sugar-free gum help wash away food particles.3
  • Use fluoride treatments. If you are not getting enough fluoride through other sources, your dentist might recommend custom trays that fit over your teeth, which contain prescription fluoride if you’re at risk of tooth decay.3


  1. Tooth Decay. NIH. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tooth-decay. Accessed 06/01/2022.
  2. Tooth Decay. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tooth-decay/ Accessed 06/01/2022.
  3. Cavities/Tooth Decay. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cavities/symptoms-causes/syc-20352892 Accessed 06/01/2022.
  4. Fluoride. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fluoride/ Accessed 06/01/2022.