Tooth decay, or cavities, develop when bacteria encounters sugars on the tooth and the bacteria “digests” the sugars.  In process of doing so, the bacteria releases an acid that erodes the tooth’s enamel.  Once the enamel is eroded and softened, this is compromised tooth structure is called tooth decay, or cavity.  Left untreated, the softened tooth structure may grow, and the bacteria continues to release the acid, making the cavity bigger.


A question patients often ask me at their dental checkup is “Do cavities go away or become smaller?”  This answer may be best answered as “it depends.”  A tooth has 3 essential layers of tooth structure: enamel, dentin, and pulp.  Enamel is one of the hardest substance in humans, and is typically the tooth layer one visibly sees in the mirror.  Dentin is a layer beneath the enamel and is soften than enamel; because dentin is softer than enamel, it decays more rapidly and can be the cause of more severe tooth decay.  The pulp is the final layer beneath the dentin, and has live connective tissue; the pulp consists of nerves, blood vessels, and cells known as odontoblasts.


So do cavities go away or get smaller?  The area that needs to be evaluated is the junction between the enamel and dentin, known as the dentin-enamel junction (DEJ).  If the cavity is restricted within the enamel, there is a possibility the decay may be arrested (stopped).  Good oral hygiene is required with daily brushing and flossing.

Use of fluoridated rinse and extra fluoride toothpaste may also help slow the growth of the cavity.  Fluoride works by remineralizing the damaged enamel.  If the cavity has invaded and surpassed the dentin-enamel junction, research has shown that decay will likely continue grow due to the dentin’s softness.  At this point, your dentist will explain to your treatment options (ie. filling, crown, root canal, or extration, depending on the severity of the decay and finances).

If you have any questions on do cavities go away or oral hygiene, be sure to consult with your family dentist or hygienist.

Warm Regards,

Peter Chien, DMD, MPH

(425) 614-600