Tooth decay is called Dental Caries in dental terminology.


Tooth decay is caused by the reaction of oral bacteria (normal dental flora) with food debris (esp. sweet food) left on the teeth, which forms acid and erodes the teeth.


This picture shows the structure of a tooth that consists of enamel, dentin, cementum and pulp. The treatment varies with the degree of the decay.


Enamel is the hardest part in the structure of a tooth and tooth decay  starts with a tiny hole in the enamel and spreads rapidly into the dentin which is right beneath the enamel. The pain is felt only when the dental cavities reach near the pulp.


In case of Class and , the treatment is to remove the decayed part and fill it with amalgam or gold. But in case of Class or above, root canal treatment is needed. Then the treated area is crowned, or for a badly decayed tooth, the tooth is extracted and in one or two months, a new tooth is implanted after healing has occurred.


Class Tooth Decay - Decay is limited only to the enamel.

Class Tooth Decay - Decay is spreading into the dentin.

Class Tooth Decay - Decay is reaching the pulp and pus may show up at the end of the root

The reduced tooth decayed area needs filling materials as it does not fully recover by itself. There are various kinds of filling materials such as amalgam, composite resin, gold (inlay), ceramic (inlay) and so on, out of which gold (inlay) is the most durable. Gold inlay refers to filling the decayed area, where dental cavities have existed or where hard parts of the tooth have fallen off, with molded gold from outside the mouth.


Since the tooth-restoring material functions as a part of the body, it must be nontoxic and resistant to erosion or discoloration from saliva and food. Gold satisfies these requirements better than others. Especially for extensively damaged areas receiving great biting pressure, gold is an ideal material.


Amalgam is a compound of mercury and silver. While it is covered by insurance and is rather inexpensive for treatment, its drawback is that it doesn't last long.


Compound resin or ceramic inlay has the same color with real teeth and in terms of esthetics it is an outstanding material. However, resin or ceramic inlay is not suitable for treating molars because of their fragile characteristics. (Most Korean food is hard to chew.) While most amalgam and resin treatment can be given just for one visit to a dental office, gold inlay or ceramic inlay requires two or three dental visits. Nevertheless, it is still convenient considering its minimal treatment time.


The gold inlay process is as following :

First, the dentist gets rid of the decayed or damaged part of the tooth and takes the impression of the treated part for filling.

Second, the dentist sets the molded gold inlay with dental cement.