Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth structure and can affect both the enamel (the outer coating of the tooth) and the dentin layer of the tooth.Tooth decay occurs when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches), such as bread, cereals, milk, soda, fruits, cakes, or candy are left on the teeth. Bacteria that live in the mouth digest these foods, turning them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris and saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. If this plaque is not properly cleaned off, the acids in plaque can dissolve the enamel surface of the teeth, creating holes in the teeth called cavities.

To prevent tooth decay:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Preferably, brush after each meal and especially before going to bed.
  • Clean between your teeth daily with dental floss or interdental cleaners.
  • Rinse daily with a fluoride-containing mouthwash. Some rinses also have antiseptic ingredients to help kill bacteria that cause plaque.
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacks.
  • Check with your dentist about the use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth.
  • Ask your dentist about dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth (molars) to protect them from decay.
  • Drink fluoridated water.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exam.

Researchers are developing new means to prevent tooth decay. One study found that a chewing gum that contains the sweetener xylitol temporarily retarded the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay. In addition, several materials that slowly release fluoride over time, which will help prevent further decay, are being explored. These materials would be placed between teeth or in pits and fissures of teeth.