What you need to know about the 3 main types of tooth decay

tooth decay types

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is a prevalent disease that affects the hard tissues of our teeth, namely the enamel and dentin. It begins by attacking the outer layer, the enamel, and gradually advances towards the inner layers, reaching the pulp. This process can occur in both children and adults.

The type of dental caries varies based on its location and extent on the tooth surface. Understanding these different types can help in diagnosing and treating the decay effectively.

The different types of tooth decay:

Cavities can appear on different parts of the tooth, including the chewing surfaces, spaces between teeth, and near the gum line. They can affect various types of teeth, like incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.

The location and extent of the cavities reveal important insights into your oral hygiene habits and diet. They also guide the dentist in determining the most suitable treatment to effectively address the decay.

1. Chewing surfaces cavities:

Chewing surface cavities are the most common type of cavities and typically affect the back teeth, specifically the molars and premolars.

These teeth have crevices and grooves that can easily trap bacteria and food debris, making it challenging to clean effectively during regular brushing.

If left untreated, chewing surface cavities can cause toothache, sensitivity, infection, and even tooth loss. Therefore, it is essential to know how to prevent and treat them effectively.

How to Prevent Chewing Surface Cavities?

The best way to prevent chewing surface cavities is to keep your teeth clean and free of plaque. Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily to remove any food debris between your teeth. You should also visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleaning.

Another preventive measure is to apply dental sealants on the chewing surfaces of your molars and premolars at your dentist. Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that protect the teeth from bacteria and acids. They are usually applied to children's teeth as soon as they erupt, but adults can also benefit from them.

How to Treat Chewing Surface Cavities?

The treatment of chewing surface cavities depends on how severe they are. If the decay is only on the enamel surface, your dentist may be able to reverse it by applying a fluoride gel or varnish. This will help to remineralize the tooth and stop the cavity from growing.

If the decay has reached the dentin layer or formed a hole in the tooth, your dentist will need to remove the decayed part and fill it with a suitable material. This will restore the shape and function of the tooth and prevent further damage.

In some cases, the decay may have infected the pulp or nerve of the tooth. This can cause severe pain and swelling. In this situation, your dentist may perform a root canal treatment or extract the tooth.

Chewing surface cavities are preventable and treatable if you take good care of your oral health. By following these tips, you can keep your teeth strong and healthy for life.

2. Interdental cavities:

Interdental cavities are cavities that develop in the spaces between the teeth. These areas are challenging to clean with a toothbrush alone, allowing plaque and food debris to accumulate and lead to decay. Individuals with dental crowding are particularly susceptible to interdental cavities due to increased food retention.


The best way to prevent interdental cavities is to keep the spaces between your teeth clean and free of plaque.
You can do this by flossing or using an interdental brush every day, preferably after each meal. You should also brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Regular visits to your dentist are also crucial because only X-rays can detect these types of cavities, allowing for early intervention.


Treating interdental cavities involves the removal of decayed tissues, followed by the restoration of the affected interdental spaces with a filling. In cases where there is pulp infection or extensive damage, a root canal treatment or extraction may be necessary to preserve oral health.

3. Tooth decay near the gum line area, AKA Root Decay:

Root decay is a type of tooth decay commonly observed in the elderly. It typically occurs near the gum line and may extend to involve the tooth roots.

Due to thinner enamel in this area, root decay tends to progress rapidly.

This type of decay often follows gum recession, which exposes the root dentin. The root dentin is less resistant to decay and more susceptible to damage.


To prevent root decay, it is essential to maintain good oral hygiene practices. Brush your teeth regularly and properly with a soft bristle toothbrush.

Avoid excessive pressure and hard-bristled toothbrushes, as they are harsh on teeth and can contribute to gum recession and tooth wear.

Regular visits to your dentist for professional dental cleanings are essential. If you think you may be at risk, ask your dentist if you can incorporate a fluoride supplement into your oral hygiene routine.


Root decay can progress rapidly if left untreated, potentially reaching the pulp and requiring root canal treatment. However, if caught early, your dentist can remove the decayed lesion, clean the affected area, and restore the tooth with a filling.

By practicing preventive measures and seeking timely treatment, you can effectively manage root decay, preserving the health and function of your teeth.

What other conditions can affect our teeth?

Tooth decay is not the only dental condition that can harm our teeth. There are other factors that can contribute to dental problems, including:

Tooth Wear:

Tooth wear is a condition that causes breakdown of the enamel and dentin, without involving bacteria. It often occurs due to mechanical irritation, such as rough tooth brushing or the use of a hard-bristled toothbrush. Another form of tooth wear, known as erosion, can be caused by high acidity in the mouth.

Tooth Discoloration:

Tooth discoloration refers to a change in the natural shade of the teeth or the presence of scattered stains on the tooth surfaces. It can be caused by various factors, such as excessive consumption of pigmented foods (like coffee, tea, and red wine), certain medications, ingestion of high levels of fluoride during tooth development, trauma, or simply aging. The treatment for tooth discoloration can vary, ranging from whitening procedures to the restoration of teeth using crowns or veneers.
It's important to be aware of these dental conditions and take appropriate measures to prevent and address them. Maintaining good oral hygiene practices, avoiding bad habits that can weaken your teeth, and seeking professional dental care can help protect and enhance the health and appearance of your smile.