Tooth Decay: Risk Factors and Prevention
June 02, 2021 | Farah Jassawalla

Tooth Decay: Risk Factors and Prevention

Tooth decay is damage to the tooth which can manifest in multiple ways. Mainly, this damage occurs either in the enamel (outer surface) of the tooth or the dentin layer (the part of the tooth beneath the enamel).

Although there are many different causes of tooth decay, the process that leads to it is the activity of a certain species of bacteria. This bacteria lives inside dental plaque inside your mouth. When the sugars from your food come into contact with this bacteria, it converts them into acid. If the plaque continues to build, the acids begin to damage your teeth.

Tooth decay can potentially lead to cavities, dental abscesses, and even tooth loss.

What is a Cavity?

A cavity is a permanently damaged area in a tooth’s hard surface that turns into a tiny hole or opening. It can gradually become bigger with time if left untreated.

Risk Factors of Tooth Decay

Certain Foods and Drinks:

There are certain foods and drinks which cling to your teeth long after you have had them. As a result, they are more likely to play a role in tooth decay than other foods which are easily washed away by saliva. These include milk, soda, honey, sugar, dried fruits, chips, dry cereal, cookies, ice cream, cake, candy, etc.

Frequent Snacks:

If you snack throughout the day, the bacteria produce more acids through the sugars in the snacks. For example, drinking carbonated drinks or juices, munching on chips or cookies. With regular snacking, more acids speed up the process of tooth decay.

Location of the Tooth:

The teeth in the back of your mouth—molars and premolars—are more likely to get tooth decay. The reason is that these teeth collect many food particles in their various pits and crannies. Along with that, they are also hard to clean thoroughly with a toothbrush.

Bedtime Infant Feeding:

If a baby is given sugary drinks like juices or milk at bedtime, these liquids cover their teeth for hours through the night. The bacteria responsible for tooth decay feed on these liquids.

Worn Out Dental Devices:

Dental devices or fillings weaken with time and give way to decay underneath them. They either begin to break down or stop fitting well. It allows the plaque to build up and become hard. This results in tooth decay.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or heartburn, is a condition in which acids from the stomach come back up into the mouth. It damages the enamel of your teeth and exposes the dentin to bacteria. That is how tooth decay begins rapidly.

Dry Mouth:

Saliva is the fluid present in the mouth that helps wash away food particles and keep the mouth clean. It also contains substances that counter the decay-causing bacteria. But when one suffers from dry mouth, which is a lack of saliva, the bacteria have more chances to attack and damage the teeth. Generally, dry mouth can be the result of radiation therapies to the head or neck, chemotherapy drugs, certain medical conditions, and certain medications.

Prevention from Tooth Decay

Here are some tips to help you avoid cavities and tooth decay:

      Brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste, especially after eating and drinking.

      Floss regularly.

      Visit your dentist after regular intervals for oral exams and teeth cleanings.

      Avoid frequent snacking.

      Avoid foods that damage your teeth like soda or foods that get stuck in the teeth. Instead, include teeth-healthy foods in your diet like fresh fruits and vegetables.

      Drink lots of water to help wash away food particles. Especially water with added fluoride (tap water).

You can book an online appointment at Shifa4U for further medical insight into tooth decay and its treatments.

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Farah Jassawalla

Farah Jassawalla is a graduate of the Lahore School of Economics. She is also a writer, and healthcare enthusiast, having closely observed case studies while working with Lahore's thriving general physicians at their clinics.