The eventually erosion of enamel (the hard covering of a tooth) and dentine (the softer substance underneath the enamel). This condition is more widely known as tooth decay
The main cause of dental caries is plaque, which is a sticky substance consisting of saliva by-products, dead cells from the lining of the mouth, food deposits and bacteria that collects on the surface of the teeth. The breakdown of food deposits by bacteria creates acid that eats into the enamel to form cavities. When left unchecked, decay spreads to the dentine, and as the cavity gets bigger, bacteria can destroy and invade the pulp tissue at the core of the tooth.
Initial decay generally occurs on the grinding surfaces of the back teeth and on areas around the gum line. In early stages, dental caries does not usually cause any symptoms. Advance tooth decay causes tooth ache, which can be aggravated by eating very hot, sweet or cold food or drink. Occasionally advanced decay can also cause halitosis (bad breath).
Treatment consists of drilling away the area of decay and filling the cavity (dental filling). In advanced decay, it may be suitable to remove the infected pulp and replace it with a filling (root-canal treatment) or to extract the entire tooth.
The threat of dental caries occurring can be reduced by practising good oral hygiene, visiting the dentist regularly for check-up and cutting down on sugar consumption. Water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpastes also help prevent recurring caries.