Are there different types of tooth decay that lead to cavities?

Cavities attack the teeth in two main ways. The first is through the pits and fissures, which are grooves that are visible on the top biting surfaces of the back teeth (molars and premolars). The pits and fissures are thin areas of enamel that contain recesses that can trap food and plaque to form a cavity. The cavity starts from a small point of attack, and spreads widely to invade the underlying dentin.

The second route of acid attack is from a smooth surface, which is between, or on the front or back of teeth. In a smooth surface cavity, the acid must travel through the entire thickness of the enamel. The area of attack is generally wide, and comes to point or converges as it enters the deeper layers of the tooth.
Rita Medwid

A tooth has many surfaces and some people describe the decay by where it is on the tooth. The cavities the dentist can see by a clinical exam are on the chewing surfaces of the teeth and on the gumline area. There are some tooth decay cavities that are formed between the teeth due to lack of flossing. For these cavities, the dentist must take an x-ray to find them. You cannot see them by looking or feeling with the "pick". Another type of tooth decay is something that happens to an injured tooth called "internal resorption”. The dentist also needs to take an x-ray to find this, unless the decay eats it way out of the tooth and shows at the gumline.

Yes, there are three types of cavities: smooth surface, pit and fissure, and root. A smooth surface cavity is a cavity that is decaying the surface enamel. This cavity decays the tooth at the slowest pace and its damage is the easiest to reverse. A pit and fissure cavity develops on the chewing surface and in the grooves of your back molars. Its decay is much faster than a smooth surface cavity because most people cannot properly clean these areas. A root decay cavity is the most serious type of cavity, which develops on the cementum, the surface covering of the root. Root cavities usually develop as a result of gum recession. Root decay is the hardest to treat because the decay is so deep in the tooth that treatments are more serious.
Decay is classified by where it occurs on the tooth surface. Pit and fissure decay is decay that occurs in the grooves on the top of the back teeth. Good oral hygiene and sealing the grooves in the back teeth can help prevent this type of decay. Smooth surface decay is decay that occurs on the smooth surfaces of the teeth- front, back, and sides. Flossing really helps to clean the sides of the teeth. Finally, root decay occurs on the roots of the teeth. When gums recede, the roots of the teeth become exposed. The root is not covered with enamel, which is the hard layer of the tooth. Good oral hygiene and using flourides can help reduce root decay. If you suspect that you have decay, see your dentist.

Continue Learning about Cavities

What research and public policy is being done about cavities?
Research is being conducted on a vaccine that may prevent cavities. Dentists are currently researchi...
More Answers
What is the most severe type of cavity decay?
Jerry P. Gordon, DMDJerry P. Gordon, DMD
Most dentists would say that a condition called rampant caries is the most severe form of tooth deca...
More Answers
Are cavities contagious?
Megan  Chin, DDSMegan Chin, DDS
Cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred easily between people, in a process called vertical trans...
More Answers
Why are adults at risk for tooth decay?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Changes that occur with aging make cavities an adult problem. Recession of the gums away from the te...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.