Dental caries

Last revised by Yuranga Weerakkody on 23 Oct 2021

Dental caries are cavities in teeth ('caries' is both the singular and plural form). A single cavity can also be referred to as a carious lesion to avoid ambiguity. They are very common and can lead to serious morbidity. 

Clinical presentation

Tooth decay is asymptomatic in its early stages. Once the enamel has been breached and the dentin is exposed then people may experience toothache (odontalgia). Toothache can become severe when the pulp cavity becomes exposed. Patients may also experience pain on eating, bad breath (fetor oris) or taste disturbances.



Focal enamel and dentin demineralization result in cavity formation. There are multiple theories for their pathogenesis but contributing factors include a combination of a sugar-rich diet, anatomy, oral cavity microbiome, poor dental hygiene, hyposalivation and time 1,2.

Dental caries are often categorized into 1:

  • occlusional: affect the chewing surface
  • approximal: occur between teeth

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads