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Arrested Caries: What to Know About This Type of Dental Decay

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you thought that all cavities are the same, think again. There are actually many different types of cavities that your dentist checks for during your routine visits, including arrested caries. These are cavities that are no longer progressing or active. Here's how your dentist finds these areas of decay and determines if they require treatment.

Cavities 101

You may know that dental caries is the scientific term for cavities, and that cavities refer to areas of decay in teeth. As the American Dental Association (ADA) explains, cavities are caused by certain bacteria in our mouths that feed on the sugar we eat and turn it into acid. This acid can destroy the outer tooth enamel. If allowed to progress, the acid can reach the layer underneath, known as dentin.

Cavities appear differently depending on their location and stage, and when you see your dentist, they will assess the severity of any decay in your teeth. Several factors can affect the extent of tooth decay, such as your biology, environment and behaviors, according to an article in The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). For example, actions such as applying fluoride to the teeth can help to prevent cavities, whereas forgetting to brush your teeth twice a day can put you at risk for dental decay.

What Does Arrested Caries Mean?

Arrested caries are areas of decay that have stopped progressing and are inactive, according to the JADA article. This decay is usually limited to areas of the teeth where plaque hasn't built up. These spots look different from the rest of the tooth, often brown or sometimes whiter than the surrounding area (known as white spot lesions). The affected area is typically shiny, as well. While active decay may appear to have a dark gray shadow, arrested decay does not because the decay hasn't reached the dentin underneath the enamel.

Dentists typically diagnose this type of dental decay by touch and visual evaluation. As the JADA article explains, arrested cavities feel smooth and hard to touch, unlike progressing cavities, which have a sticky or soft feeling.

How Are These Cavities Treated?

If a cavity is no longer progressing, then do you need a filling? Typically, no.

Arrested caries usually don't require surgical treatment, unless they pose a problem for tooth function, as an article in Quintessence International explains. If the area of decay appears dark and concerns you aesthetically, such as if it appears in the front of the mouth, then you may consider cosmetic treatments like bleaching. If you have any inactive cavities, your dentist can recommend the best option for your situation.

Tips to Prevent Dental Decay

If you have experienced arrested tooth decay, it's important to revisit your oral hygiene routine to ensure your teeth stay healthy. The Cleveland Clinic outlines several crucial steps you should follow to reduce your chances of developing future decay:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and use floss or interdental cleaners to clean between your teeth.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary and starchy foods.
  • Ask your dentist about fluoride applications or sealants to further protect your teeth.
  • See your dentist at recommended intervals to catch any problems earlier, when they're easier to treat.

While arrested cavities often do not threaten your oral health or need any intervention from a dentist, it's still important to attend regular checkups and maintain optimal oral hygiene to avoid future decay.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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