Everything you need to know about tooth decay

Ever since we were small children, we were told to brush our teeth really well or we would end up with holes in our teeth. But is it really that simple?

Although brushing is certainly one important factor in protecting ourselves from tooth decay, it is a lot more complex than that.

The more we know about what causes dental caries, the more we can protect ourselves from it.

For tooth decay to happen, three factors must be considered:

1. Teeth structure and oral environment   

2. Food

3. Bacteria

Below, we will briefly explain each factor and its influence on tooth decay:

1.Teeth structure and the oral environment

Not all people’s teeth are structurally the same and not all people’s teeth are as strong as others’. Many conditions can lead to the formation of teeth with less enamel, weakened enamel, and dentine structures which make teeth more prone to decay.

Saliva naturally fights against tooth decay by constantly cleaning our teeth and removing bacteria and food. Also, the minerals present in saliva help teeth regain minerals lost due to bacterial activity and food acids.


Tooth decay is an infectious disease and, like any other infection, it is caused by the presence of bacteria. We naturally have millions of bacteria living within our bodies, many of which are necessary for our survival. But some of the bacteria naturally present in our mouth can cause infection and disease – but only in the presence of a suitable environment. This brings us to the last necessary link for decay to happen: the presence of food.


The main reason for tooth decay and cavities is the acid produced by bacteria while they process food – mainly sugars – in our mouth. Food left on the teeth or in between teeth provides an ideal environment for these bacteria to produce destructive acids and cause decay.

For decay to happen, all three factors mentioned above must be present, which means that dental decay is a complicated process.

Tooth Decay Diagram

Certainly, brushing and flossing to remove bacteria and food from the surface and in between the teeth plays a very strong role in the prevention of decay.

But other factors are important, too:

  • The amount of saliva in the mouth
  • Diet (low-sugar diets lead to much less bacterial activity)
  • The structure of the teeth and the presence of any defects
  • Teeth crowding, which can create food traps
  • The presence of fluoride in water and toothpaste, which strengthens teeth against decay

All these factors play a role in the process of tooth decay, and by being mindful of all of them, we can minimize the chances of cavities in our teeth.

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