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Tooth Decay (Cavities)

Tooth Decay (Cavities)

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is often called dental caries or cavities.

What causes Tooth Decay?

It is caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel. This breakdown is the result of bacteria on teeth that breakdown foods and produce acid that destroys tooth enamel and results in tooth decay.

How does Tooth Decay affect me?

Although tooth decay is largely preventable, it remains the most common chronic disease of children ages 6 to 11 years and adolescents ages 12 to 19 years. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma among adolescents ages 14 to 17 years. Dental caries also affects adults, with nine out of 10 over the age of 20 having some degree of tooth-root decay 1.

What can I do about Tooth Decay?

Water fluoridation, named by CDC as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century, has been a major contributor to the decline of the rate of tooth decay. Studies have shown that water fluoridation can reduce the amount of decay in children's teeth by 18-40% 2.

In addition to fluoridated water, good oral hygiene can help prevent tooth decay:

  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals
  • Cut down on sugary food and drinks
  • Don't smoke or chew tobacco
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examination
  • Check with your dentist about use of supplemental fluoride, which strengthens your teeth, and about use of dental sealants (a plastic protective coating) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay

Information sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

1. Dye BA, Tan S, Smith V, Lewis BG, Barker LK, Thornton-Evans G, Eke PI, Beltrán-Aguilar ED, Horowitz AM, Li CH. Trends in oral health status, United States, 1988-1994 and 1999-2004. Vital Health Stat 11. 2007;(248):1-92.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (2000). Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health. Rockville, MD.