Dental caries is the technical term for dental decay. It is caused by acid-producing bacteria that live in our mouths and cause erosion of the tooth enamel. Many different types of bacteria live in the human mouth and accumulate on the surfaces of the teeth in a sticky film called plaque. Plaque is more likely to form in retentive areas, such as deep grooves and pits in the back teeth, between the teeth, and near the gum line. A particular kind of bacteria living in plaque produces acids that, over time, dissolve the minerals in the hard surfaces of the tooth. The result of this process is dental decay.
There are several stages in the dental caries process. An early-stage lesion may not be cavitated, but the affected enamel will have lost some of its minerals, leaving the area looking dull and chalky white. If your dental professional detects an early-stage lesion like this in your mouth there is some good news: the lesion can be reversed by the adoption of good oral hygiene, the limitation of sugar intake, and the application of high-fluoride solutions to remineralise the damaged area. Your dental professional will then monitor the area to ensure that the enamel returns to health.
If the demineralisation process has progressed to the point where the surface collapses and forms a cavity or “hole”, you will most likely need to have the area restored with a filling placed by your dental professional. Once you have had your restoration done it is important to revise your diet to restrict the consumption of sugar, increase your water intake to maintain adequate protective saliva levels, and improve your oral hygiene practices in order to prevent recurrences.