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Tooth decay can happen at any age. The the outer surface of your teeth are covered with a hard tissue called enamel which protects your teeth from decay.

Beneath the gum the root of your teeth are covered with a soft tissue called cementum. If exposed, the cementum is more susceptible to decay and more difficult to treat than decay of the enamel.

As you get older your gums may recede (shrink) exposing the delicate cementum. This shrinking may be caused by periodontal disease, plaque build-up, trauma or can be heredity. Even old dental restorations may begin to weaken and create crevices that allow bacteria to accumulate leading to decay.

As you age, saliva levels can decrease. Saliva is our mouths natural defence against decay by neutralizing harmful acids in our mouths.

Any decrease in the flow of saliva whether due to age or caused by some prescribed medications, means that our mouths will get a change in its natural balance and may make you more susceptible to decay.


Causes of tooth decay

Tooth decay is chemical process that causes destruction of your tooth enamel and dentine; the hard, outer layer and inner layer of your teeth. Tooth decay can be a problem at any age – for children, teens and adults.

Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth and over time the enamel can break down. This is when cavities can form.

Stages of Tooth Decay


Recession of the gums away from the teeth, combined with an increased incidence of gum disease, can expose tooth roots to plaque.

The roots of your teeth are covered with cementum. Cementum is a softer tissue than enamel, which makes your roots more susceptible to decay when they are exposed.

It’s common for people over age 50 to have tooth-root decay as a consequence of gums receding.

Decay around the edges, margins of fillings is also common for older adults. Since many older adults lacked the benefits of fluoride and modern preventive dental care when they were growing up, they often have a number of dental fillings.

Over the years, these fillings may weaken and tend to fracture and leak around the edges. Bacteria accumulate in these tiny crevices causing acid to build up which leads to decay.

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You can help prevent tooth decay by following these tips:

  • Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners
  • Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral examinations