Can you actually reverse tooth decay?

reversible vs. irreversible tooth decay
Whether you're a fan of natural remedies or looking for tips on how to strengthen your teeth and maintain good oral health, it's always a good idea to learn more about how to reverse tooth decay.

As you've probably heard, it's possible to reverse tooth decay, but not always.

Tooth decay evolves, starting by affecting only your teeth surfaces. At this stage, it is possible to stop or even reverse it.

Once a cavity has formed, it will never heal on its own. Read this article to find out when it is possible to reverse tooth decay and how to do it properly.

How does tooth decay start and develop?

Tooth decay is an infectious and multifactorial disease. It develops slowly and gradually, destroying the hard tissues of your teeth (enamel and dentin).

Tooth layers

To understand the process of tooth decay, it is important to understand the anatomy and composition of the tooth. The tooth is an organ made up mainly of minerals.

It has 3 layers: the outermost, called the enamel, followed by the dentin and the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels of the tooth.

Although the tooth is hard and resistant, it has its weaknesses, like all minerals.

the evolution of tooth decay

In contact with acid, the chemical bonds that hold the tooth's minerals together break down, resulting in the dissolution of enamel and dentin.

The acid that dissolves the tooth comes from bacteria after processing the sugars in our food.

Prolonged contact with acid on teeth initially causes reversible surface damage known as demineralization.
Over time, demineralization increases and leads to irreversible cavities.

However, demineralization does not necessarily mean cavities. In fact, it happens to us every day.

After a sweet meal, the acidity of the mouth increases and demineralization occurs, during which the teeth lose their minerals.

30 minutes later, the acidity naturally decreases and remineralization occurs. The lost minerals are then rebuilt on the enamel, restoring the teeth. Minerals can come from saliva, fluoride toothpaste, water and certain foods such as tea, fish, dairy products and some vegetables.

demineralization and remineralization cycle

Caries occurs when there is an imbalance between the demineralization and remineralization cycles.
For instance, prolonged contact with acid on the teeth, frequent consumption of sugary foods or repeated nibbling increases the acid attack on the teeth and lengthens the demineralization periods.

Other causes of tooth decay

Other causes are added to the bacteria and multiply the risk of cavities:

  • Diet: There is a strong link between cavities and diet. A diet high in carbohydrates and low in minerals and vitamins makes teeth more vulnerable to cavities.

  • Saliva: Saliva is important not only for our teeth but also for our gums. It contains minerals that help with the remineralization process. It also balances mouth acidity.
    Some general diseases and medications affect saliva production, leading to conditions such as xerostomia or dry mouth. Smokers also produce less saliva, being deprived of its protective effect.

  • Oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene is essential to prevent cavities and other oral conditions. Not brushing and flossing your teeth will cause bacterial plaque to build up. Over time, this plaque will harden into tartar, which is more difficult to remove.

  • Developmental defects: Certain anomalies affect the structure and composition of the tooth.
    The mineralized tissues (enamel and dentin) will be of poor quality, making the tooth more fragile.
  • These dental defects are visible as soon as the tooth erupts and sometimes appear as white spots that can be mistaken for early decay.

Is it possible to reverse tooth decay?

Many people believe that the only way to treat a cavity is to go to the dentist for a filling.

However, it has been proven that there are many ways to reverse tooth decay in its early stages.

As long as the lesion is limited to the tooth surface, it may respond positively to preventive measures.

To see if the cavity is reversible, simply stand in front of the mirror and dry your teeth. The areas of demineralization should appear as white or brown spots. You should not feel any pain. The initial decay only affects the enamel, which has no nerves.

At this stage, the lesion is superficial enough to be accessible to remineralizing treatments.
They consist of rebuilding the enamel minerals lost during the carious process with calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride preparations.

reversible vs. irreversible tooth decay

However, once a cavity has developed, the damage is irreversible. Bacteria penetrate deep into the tooth tissue and continue to eat away at the tooth. Oral hygiene alone cannot stop them. That is why treatment by a dentist is essential.

There are different ways and measures you can take to reverse the early stage (demineralization) of tooth decay:

Oral hygiene:

Oral hygiene is an essential step in reversing tooth decay. It removes bacterial plaque, a soft, whitish, sticky film that is the main cause of tooth decay. It also prevents minerals from building up in the tooth enamel.

Improve your oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day using the correct method. It is advisable to wait 30 minutes after eating a sweet or acidic meal to avoid aggravating the demineralization process.

Remember to clean the interdental spaces once a day with dental floss or an interdental brush. These spaces are inaccessible to the toothbrush bristles and provide a haven for bacteria and food particles.

Ask your dentist to add a fluoride mouthwash to your oral hygiene routine. It has been shown to reverse early white lesions.

Finally, make regular visits to check the condition of your teeth and monitor the results.


Fluoride is the best-known mineral for preventing tooth decay and reversing early lesions.

The fluoride you get from your diet and oral care products binds to the enamel and helps with remineralization.

It also has an antibacterial effect by attacking the bacteria that cause cavities. In addition, it prevents bacteria from attaching to our teeth, thus preventing plaque build-up.

There are two ways to get fluoride:

  • The collective way: Depending on where you live, it can come from tap water, salt or flour. In the US, about 74% of Americans served by a community water system receive fluoridated water.

  • Local: This refers to personal use, such as fluoridated toothpaste, gels, mouthwash, or chewing gum.

Despite the benefits of fluoride, excessive use can be detrimental to your teeth and health. High doses can lead to toxicity with serious complications for the bones, thyroid, and nervous system.

It is therefore important not to use fluoride supplements without first consulting your dentist. They should also not be swallowed, especially by children.


Diet is a key element in reversing tooth decay. A study conducted on children has shown that tooth decay can be cured and improved by diet.

Start by limiting the amount and frequency of sweets to reduce acidity and give your teeth time to rebuild minerals.

Your diet should be balanced, varied, and natural, meeting your protein, fat, and carbohydrate needs. Make sure you also get enough vitamins and minerals.

Foods that are good for dental health include dairy products, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and, most importantly, water. Water helps to offset acidity, so make sure you are well hydrated.

A healthy diet also stimulates saliva production and balances the oral microbiome, limiting the effects of harmful bacteria.

  1. Treatment of orthodontic white spot lesions with a remineralizing dentifrice applied by toothbrushing or mouth trays.