Treating and Preventing Tooth Decay

Authored by Dr Ben Williams, 19 May 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Hayley Willacy, 19 May 2017

The aim of treatment is to remove existing decay, restore damaged teeth and remove factors that trap plaque and risk further decay.

This usually depends on the extent of the tooth decay (dental caries) and the condition of the pulp - is it alive, inflamed or dead? The aim of treatment is to remove existing decay, restore damaged teeth and remove factors that trap plaque and risk further decay.

When tooth decay has entered the dentine it is necessary to remove the infected dentine and place a filling. The selection of filling material usually depends on the location of the cavity. Everybody prefers white fillings but in a few situations they might not be practical or possible and a silver filling may be more appropriate. Your dentist should discuss the options with you.

If the caries has affected the pulp, it may be necessary to protect it with special dressings or to remove an infected or dying pulp by performing root canal treatment.

If the caries is too extensive and insufficient healthy tooth remains then an extraction may be necessary

Considering the avoidable nature of tooth decay (dental caries), there are few situations where the age-old tenet, 'Prevention is better than cure', is more applicable.

As well as providing advice about diet, dental hygiene instruments and improved cleaning techniques your dental team may also suggest the use of use fluoride varnishes and mouthwashes to strengthen areas of weakened enamel.

The main advice for preventing dental caries includes:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day using a fluoride toothpaste for 2-3 minutes. Do not rinse your mouth out with water afterwards - just spit out any excess toothpaste. Do not consume anything except water after brushing your teeth at night.
  • Brush children's teeth as soon as they erupt into the mouth. Use a smear of toothpaste for children aged less than 3 years and a pea-sized amount for children aged 3-6 years.
  • Floss after brushing your teeth or use interdental brushes to remove plaque and food debris from between the teeth.
  • Limit your consumption of food or drink that contains sugars to mealtimes as much as possible. Fruit juice and smoothies are both high in natural sugars and should be restricted to mealtimes too.
  • Opt for sugar-free snacks between meals - cheese, crackers, toast, carrot sticks or fruit. Even though fruit contains natural sugars, the other health benefits from eating fruit make it worthwhile.
  • Realistically, there will be occasions when you or your children do consume sugary treats or drinks outside of mealtimes. Try to limit these events to only once or twice a week and opt for things that can be consumed briskly. A cake or cookie eaten in a few minutes will cause less tooth weakening than a packet of sweets that are sucked or chewed for an hour.
  • Chew sugar-free gum after meals. The gum will help to rub plaque from the tooth surfaces and will also stimulate the flow of saliva.
  • Attend regular dental inspections - usually every 6 or 12 months as recommended by your dentist.
  • Make an appointment to see your dentist if you suspect a tooth has broken or if you feel symptoms of sensitivity or toothache that lasts for more than one or two days.

I noticed a small flesh colored lump on my palatopharyngeal arch right next to my left tonsil. It isn't hard, seems to be fleshy like the other surrounding tissue. It doesn't hurt at all either. Just...

Health Tools

Feeling unwell?

Assess your symptoms online with our free symptom checker.

Start symptom checker