Dental decay is the breakdown and destruction of the tooth structure. It is a process that occurs, over time, when bacteria in the plaque biofilm produce acids that draw minerals out from the teeth and create pores in the enamel. Dental decay (cavities or caries) that progress without treatment can result in pain, infection, and possible loss of teeth.
With the development of better risk assessment tools and newer technologies, we can identify the presence of cavities at an earlier stage and conserve tooth structure. The earlier these lesions are detected, the less treatment.
When we restore a tooth, we want to conserve as much of the original tooth structure as possible. After the decay is removed, a tooth-colored filling is used to restore the tooth to its original form and function. An inlay, onlay, or crown is used when tooth decay is extensive and little tooth structure remains.
If decay has spread to the pulp or nerve, a root canal or pulp capping may be necessary. The latter is performed when the nerve has been mildly infected and if there is still a possibility of natural nerve repair. Root canal treatment is indicated if decay or injury has damaged the nerve of the tooth and the patient wants to save the tooth. Badly decayed teeth may require extraction.
Dental decay occurs in all age groups and is chronic for many people.