Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a breakdown of teeth due to acids made by bacteria. The cavities may be a number of different colors from yellow to black. Symptoms may include pain and difficulty with eating. Complications may include inflammation of the tissue around the tooth, tooth loss, and infection or abscess formation.
The cause of cavities is acid from bacteria dissolving the hard tissues of the teeth (enamel, dentin and cementum). The acid is produced by the bacteria when they break down food debris or sugar on the tooth surface. Simple sugars in food are these bacteria’s primary energy source and thus a diet high in simple sugar is a risk factor. If mineral breakdown is greater than build up from sources such as saliva, caries results. Risk factors include conditions that result in less saliva such as: diabetes, Sjogren’s syndrome and some medications. Medications that decrease saliva production include antihistamines and antidepressants. Caries is also associated with poor cleaning of the mouth and receding gums resulting in exposure of the roots of the teeth.