Tooth Decay – Symptoms & Treatments

Tooth decay

3-minute read

Tooth decay occurs when a hole (cavity) forms in your tooth. It can affect people of all ages and even very young children. Having tooth decay can affect your health and lead to other conditions. However, tooth decay can be prevented or treated.


What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay is caused by plaque — a sticky layer of germs — in your mouth. The germs in plaque turn the sugar in food and drinks into acid, which can gradually damage your teeth.


Stages of tooth decay

The acid from plaque attacks your enamel, which is the outer layer of your tooth. Repeated attacks of acid wear the enamel layer away. Tooth decay symptoms often begin with a white spot, usually near the gum line.

Left untreated, this can become a hole or cavity. If the cavity is not treated, the decay can get deeper into the tooth and cause a toothache or an abscess. In the later stages of decay, the tooth looks yellow-brown or black.


Tooth decay starts with the acid from plaque attacking your enamel. Repeated attacks will lead to a decay in the tooth.


How to prevent tooth decay
Tooth decay can be prevented by practising good dental care. This includes:

  •  having sweet foods and sugary drinks only occasionally and, if possible, only at mealtimes
  •  brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  •  limiting or avoiding sugary snacks
  •  having regular dental check-ups — many dental health experts recommend an appointment every 6 months


Children’s teeth have softer and thinner enamel, so they decay more easily than adult teeth do. If you have young children, you can help prevent decay in their teeth by:

  •  cleaning their teeth twice daily
  •  avoiding sugary drinks, such as juices, and sweet food
  •  keeping your own teeth and gums clean and healthy to avoid passing decay-causing germs when you share spoons or taste their food


Treatment of tooth decay

Treatment in the early stages can stop or even cure tooth decay.

If it is mild, tooth decay can be treated by using fluoride and taking preventive steps. In some cases, your dentist might recommend that you have a special layer (sealant) applied to healthy back teeth to prevent tooth decay.

You might need a filling to restore your tooth structure.


When to see a dentist

Because you can have tooth decay without any symptoms, you should visit your dentist regularly since they will check for tooth decay.

See your dentist as soon as possible if you have:

  •  a toothache
  •  tooth sensitivity (eg to hot or cold food or drinks)
  •  brown, black or white stains on your tooth surface
  •  pain on biting

Tooth decay – Symptoms & Treatments

Dental Health Week: It’s time to get your mouth on track

Most people are keeping track of a big, long list of things.

Daily steps taken. Calories consumed. Calories burned. Heart rate. Their next doctor appointment. Thinking “am I getting my five serves of veges a day?”

But what about their teeth? Just how is their oral health tracking?

That’s the question the ADA is asking this Dental Health Week (5-11 August), which aims to raise awareness of the key things people need to do to keep their teeth and gums healthy.

While people might think it doesn’t really matter if they miss out on a bit of flossing, skimp on the thoroughness of their brushing, live on a diet of burgers and fries or tell their dentist “thanks but no thanks, I’ll see you in 2022”, the reality is that like anything that’s necessary and good for you, it does matter and it’s definitely worth adding to a daily To Do list.

Now, before people groan inwardly and think to themselves that there’s no way they can cram anything else onto a list as long as a Senate ballot paper, we’re here to reassure them that it’s actually pretty easy and straightforward to making dental hygiene a key part of anyone’s daily routine.

Here are the four messages being communicated to Australians this Dental Health Week:

If you’re like most people, there’s not a whole of brushing going on. In fact, only 50% of Australians brush twice a day.  The reality is that a quick, occasional dash along your teeth with a hope and a prayer is not going to cut it. As your dentist will tell you, you need to brush for at least two minutes twice a day, taking care to use a soft-bristled toothbrush (they’re less damaging to your teeth and gums than their harder counterparts) to clean your teeth systematically along all surfaces, always brushing in small, circular motions.

Flossing (or using an interdental brush) once a day is important because it removes plaque from between teeth which goes a long way in helping to prevent gum disease, tooth decay and halitosis (“bad breath”). It’s not something that should be rushed either. Take your time, using a gentle side-to-side motion with about 45cm wound around your middle fingers and thumb. If you’re not sure about the right technique, have a chat to your dentist who can show you all the right flossing moves.

Say “Hello!” To your dentist
If you have a regular dentist, and it is a good idea to have one since it means your teeth will get the consistent care they need, you should be seeing them more often than you probably are, with one survey revealing that 65% of Australians have not seen a dentist in the last two years. Yup, that’s right – two whole years. Sure, that’s extra time for catching on Game of Thrones but is it good for your teeth, and the health of your whole mouth? Not really. You should really be seeing your dentist every 6 to 12 months or as needed to keep on top of your dental health.

Don’t have a regular dentist? We can help with that! The ADA’s Find a Dentist and Choosing a Dentist make it easy!

Eat and drink well
We all love junk food, but alas, it does not love us back. In fact, not only does it make fitting into those jeans you love a struggle, but it’s not good for our mouth at all. You’re much better drinking water, limiting sugar intake (watch out for hidden sugars in drinks and foods), avoid snacking between meals, instead sticking to three meals a day and concentrating on the good stuff like vegetables and dairy products. Of course, before you make any major dietary changes, first check with a healthcare professional.

How do we know the average Aussie isn’t giving their dental health the required amount of attention? Australia’s Oral Health Tracker, launched last year, is a national report card on the health of our mouths and how this impacts how healthy we are overall. 

Be Careful with Halloween Candy!

Australians are now consuming more sugar than ever before and the problem won’t be settling soon, especially with kids from all over the world who are trick or treating this Halloween.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily sugar consumption equal to five per cent of daily caloric intake (25g or six teaspoons per day) but Australians consume much more. In 2011-12 the Australian Health survey revealed that Australians consumed 60 grams of sugar per day, or 14 full teaspoons. This is not good for our health, or especially our smile.

7 Signs It’s Time For A Checkup



Sometimes it may seem easier to put off scheduling your regular dental appointment, however if you experience any of these symptoms, then it is time to check in with your dentist and make sure you avoid any potential lasting damage.

  1.   Stained Teeth

Teeth occasionally get stained from causes including; coffee, smoking or that second glass of red wine. Generally, stains go away after brushing however if you notice your teeth are not sparkling it may be time to organise a professional clean.


Healthy Eating for Healthy Teeth

Written by Dr Max Fertman

We’ve all heard at some stage of our life that we should reduce sugary foods and soft drinks in our diet if we want to help avoid getting holes in our teeth (decay) and keep them healthy for as long as possible, but are there any foods that are helpful for our teeth?

Well interestingly enough there are some foods that can have a beneficial effect on the teeth, gums and our overall oral health and they’re not too different to foods that are good for overall health.

Firstly, and possibly most obvious in terms of benefits to the teeth are the dairy products – especially cheese. Finishing a meal with a cube of cheese or even just as a snack can help remineralise teeth by providing a source of calcium, clearing food stuck in the chewing surface of teeth and stimulating saliva flow which will help prevent decay. Yoghurt and milk will have similar remineralising effects for teeth, as they are also sources of calcium, phosphorus and casein however they will not stimulate the protective and acid neutralizing effects of increased saliva flow as chewing on a harder block of cheese.

Are you dreading a visit to the Dentist?


Fear is one of our most valuable instincts. It aids our self-preservation, reminds us to beware of certain situations and helps us with risk assessment however, unfortunately a fear of many Australians is regular, routine dental check-up.

If you find yourself cringing at the thought of a routine check-up, there are a few tricks you can use to help overcome this fear and prevent any future dental problems

  1. Ask for a morning appointment.

If you find that the anticipation of an upcoming dental check-up is causing you stress, try to make an appointment for first thing in the morning. This will limit the time spent waiting anxiously for an appointment throughout the day.

Announcing Our Newly Designed Website

We are pleased to announce our newly designed website with a fresh new look, and user-friendly navigation. We hope that you will enjoy browsing our new site and find more options and information each time.