Tooth decay is one of the most common health problems in the world. It’s especially common in young children and teenagers. But almost everyone, including infants and adults, can get tooth decay.
Tooth decay refers to damage to a tooth. This damage may result in cavities, pain, dental abscesses, infection, and tooth loss. However, many people fail to recognise the signs on time.
Understanding the stages of tooth decay can help you identify the signs before the decay worsens. Read on to learn more about the stages of tooth decay and what you can do at each stage to prevent it from worsening.
But first, what is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the acidic damage that occurs to a tooth’s surface, caused by certain species of bacteria that live in dental plaque.
Dental plaque can build up over time when the teeth aren’t cleaned regularly. Dental plaque is a sticky, colourless film that covers the tooth’s surface. The bacteria in plaque convert the sugars from your food into acids, which damage your teeth.
This plaque can also harden as time passes and forms tartar, further protecting the bacteria. But good oral hygiene can prevent tooth decay.
Stages of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay doesn’t happen immediately. Instead, it occurs in a series of stages.
The five stages of tooth decay are explained below:
First Stage: Initial Demineralization
A tooth comprises three layers: enamel, dentin, and pulp. Enamel is the hard, outermost layer that is mostly made up of calcium and minerals. But when your teeth are exposed to acids produced by bacteria, the enamel loses these minerals.
At this stage, you’ll see small white spots on the surface of your teeth. This demineralisation is the initial sign of tooth decay. You should brush regularly, consider a new technique, or apply a topical fluoride treatment to prevent further decay.
Second Stage: Enamel Decay
If natural remineralisation fails to restore the enamel and tooth decay continues, the enamel will weaken further and break down. In the second stage, you’ll notice that white spots have turned brownish spots.
The further release of acid can cause cavities or dental caries to form. Your dentist will use fluoride treatments and dental sealants to protect your teeth and might even fill the cavities.
Third Stage: Dentin Decay
Dentin is the softer layer that lies right underneath the enamel. Since it’s less mineralised than the enamel, the decay proceeds quickly, forming a visible dental cavity.
Dentin also has tubes leading to the nerves of the teeth. Thus, you can also experience sensitivity when dentin is affected by tooth decay. To restore the damage, a dental filling will be recommended at this stage.
Fourth Stage: Pulp Damage
The tissue within the core of a tooth is called the pulp, which contains the nerves and blood vessels. As the nerves in the pulp are responsible for the sensation, the pulp is the most sensitive layer of the tooth.
As a result of damage, the pulp may start to swell and put pressure on the nerves. This leads to extreme pain and damages the blood vessels and nerves in the tooth. Root canal therapy is the only solution at this stage.
Fifth Stage: Abscess
As the decay continues, bacteria can enter the pulp and cause an infection. It can also form a pocket of pus at the bottom of your tooth, known as an abscess.
Tooth abscess causes severe pain and requires prompt treatment because there’s a possibility of the infection spreading into the jawbones, as well as your head and neck. Eventually, you’ll need oral surgery, and the tooth will be extracted.
However, the best way to avoid all these tooth decay stages is to maintain proper dental hygiene. With regular cleaning and care, you can avoid tooth decay.
I you have any question, feel free to reach out to our helpful dentists in Engadine.