Tooth Decay Warning Signs

Updated March 23, 2017

Tooth decay is caused by acids released by oral bacteria as they consume food particles in the mouth. These acids break down tooth enamel, allowing bacteria access to more vulnerable parts of the tooth, such as the soft nerve and blood vessel tissue at the core. Decay can be painless, but it usually causes a toothache, particularly as it becomes more severe.


Tooth decay can be difficult to perceive without special dental instrumentation. If the tooth appears yellow or brown, it can indicate decay, but not necessarily. If teeth are artificially whitened, it can mask the presence of decay. Severe tooth decay can exude a strong rotting smell. Slight tooth decay can appear darkened or even blackened on the surface of the teeth. Back teeth, due to their shape and their relative difficulty to clean, are more likely to be subject to decay.


The pain from tooth decay can fade in and out. Following up on a slight pain by seeing your dentist can prevent the progression of decay and even allow for the tooth to heal if it has begun to deteriorate. If the pain has progressed to a throbbing, constant presence, it almost always signals the presence of a significant cavity that requires surgery to remove.

Risk Factors

Tooth decay is exacerbated by high levels of sugar and refined flour in the diet. Corn and sugary fruits and juices can also have a significant impact on teeth. If you do not consume much fluoridated water, it can increase your risk of tooth decay. If you brush your teeth less than twice a day and do not use dental floss, you are also at a higher risk for tooth decay.

Tooth Decay in Children

Tooth decay often goes unnoticed in children. Their dental hygiene and dietary habits are not always well formed and many parents do not take their children to a dentist early or often enough. Baby teeth are vulnerable to decay from the moment that they grow in. Pre-verbal children may signal the presence of tooth decay by seemingly mysterious crying or repeatedly pointing at and tugging teeth or gum tissue.


Tooth decay can be prevented by carefully managing the diet, practicing proper dental hygiene, scheduling regular dental cleanings and possibly having sealants applied. Sealants are plastic coatings, applied to back teeth, that prevent food particles from falling into the crevices, which helps to preserve the teeth. If these preventive measures are not taken, tooth decay is likely to ensue.

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About the Author

John Hewitt began freelancing in 2008, writing about subjects ranging from music to stock trading, the energy industry and business. His ghostwritten work has appeared all over the Web. He attended New York University, pursuing a bachelor's degree in history.