Tooth Decay


About Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a process whereby bacteria within plaque causes breakdown of the tooth structure.
Tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems and can affect people of all ages. It is exacerbated by the amount of plaque present on teeth combined with the frequency of sugar exposure. Together, an acidic environment is created and the outer enamel becomes weakened, damaged, and eventually a hole or “cavity” forms.
Dental problems - tooth decay

Risk Factors

While everyone is susceptible to tooth decay, some people may be more at risk. Some of these risk factors include:

Limited exposure to fluoride

Fluoride helps to strengthen enamel and reduce the chance of decay. Fluoride is found in tap water in most parts of the state, as well as in the form of toothpaste and mouthwash.

Teeth that have formed with weakened or chalky enamel

Some teeth naturally form with weakened or chalky enamel. This can appear in the form of white patches on the enamel, rough and irregular enamel, or early chipping and breakdown of a young tooth. If teeth have formed with weakened enamel, they are highly susceptible to decay.

Gum recession or teeth with exposed dentine

As dentine is softer than enamel, it is also more prone to the damage caused by acid and bacteria. Dentine may become exposed if there is gum recession, enamel has been worn down due to grinding or from chipping.

Enhanced sugary and acidic diet

A diet with regular sugar or acid exposure puts teeth at a higher chance of decay. Every time sugar is consumed it feeds plaque and results in acid breakdown of the enamel. The acidic environment takes at least 30 minutes to neutralize again.

Use of medications and dehydration

Some medications or dehydration may also result in an acidic environment or cause a reduction of saliva. Saliva is important in lubricating teeth and providing essential nutrients and ions towards protecting teeth from decay.

Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is often painless without any symptoms at an early stage. Over time, as the decay progresses, it may be associated with a range of signs and symptoms:

White or Brown Spots

The earliest signs of tooth decay are white chalky areas on the surfaces of the enamel that don’t brush away. These can be detected on the grooves, along the gum line and in between teeth. Over time, these white spots may become darker and develop into a hole, or cavity.


Early decay may present as sensitive areas due to the reduced minerals within the enamel. Once decay has involved the dentine, sensitivity becomes more likely, especially when in contact with sugars, acid or temperature.

Food or floss getting caught

Once decay becomes a certain size food and floss may get caught inside the cavity and result in discomfort. Constant food impaction will also enhance the rate of the decay worsening and put neighboring teeth at risk of decay.

Bad breath or taste

Decay may be associated with bad breath or a bad taste due to the bacteria present.


When decay has become larger or involves the dental nerve, a toothache is possible. This may present when eating, in response to temperatures or occur continuously without any stimuli.

Treatment and Prevention

The best way to prevent tooth decay is to maintain a healthy oral environment. Since decay is a progressive condition, regular and ongoing healthy habits are necessary to maintain strong teeth. This includes:

Book your dental health check

Get in touch to make an appointment with one of our friendly dentists. We can perform a thorough check-up and help answer any questions you may have about your oral health.