Tooth decay is one of the most common causes of tooth pain. While some forms of tooth decay can be treated by maintaining good oral care habits, others can only be treated by a dental professional. Learning to identify the five stages of tooth decay will also teach you how to prevent it before tooth loss occurs.
Premier Dental Center is here to help you understand the five stages of tooth decay and how they can be prevented.
Stage One: White Spots
The very first stage of tooth decay is a discolored spot, typically white or yellow, on the surface of your tooth. This type of spot is caused by a mineral deficiency due to plaque buildup. While you may not feel the spot at first, if left untreated, it can lead to more severe tooth decay. To reverse a mineralized spot, you must brush and floss regularly, and talk with your dentist about how to incorporate more fluoride into your daily routine. With additional care and attention, a demineralized spot can go away without needing a dental procedure.
Stage Two: Damage to the Enamel
During stage two of tooth decay, the tooth enamel starts to break underneath the tooth’s surface. At this point, the natural remineralization process cannot fully restore the proper enamel and minerals, leading to a lesion forming within the tooth. As this decay persists, the surface of the tooth begins to become at risk for breaking, which is irreversible.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
Stage three of tooth decay is also commonly known as dentin decay. When left untreated, bacteria and acids can continue to dissolve the tooth enamel, and the lesion risks reaching the dentin inside the tooth. The dentin is part of the tooth that exists between the enamel and the pulp. Once decay has reached the dentin, the level of discomfort begins to intensify, and sharp pain may be experienced inside the infected tooth. Once enough of the sub-surface tooth enamel is weakened by the loss of calcium and phosphate minerals, your tooth enamel begins to collapse, and a dental cavity is formed.
Stage Four: Infection of the Pulp
At the very center of your tooth is the pulp. Your tooth is made up of living tissue and cells that are referred to as odontoblasts. The pulp’s cells produce dentin, which acts as the connective tissue between the tooth enamel and the pulp. If the pulp of a tooth becomes infected with bacteria, pus then forms, which inadvertently kills the blood vessels and nerves inside the tooth. This is commonly known as a toothache and can lead to consistent pain and discomfort for a patient. At this stage of tooth decay, root canal therapy typically needs to be performed to save the tooth.
Stage Five: Abscess Formation
The final stage of tooth decay is when an abscess forms. Once the infection reaches the root tip of the tooth, the conjoining bones risk infection. The gums and tongue often swell, which can affect a patient’s speech while simultaneously putting them at risk of developing other diseases. Once an abscess has formed, oral surgery may be your only option for correcting the damage.
Stage Six: Tooth Loss
Left untreated, an infected tooth will become unable to be saved and must be extracted. Tooth loss is a common issue among adults. It has been estimated that 69 percent of Americans age 35 to 44 and a total of 120 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth. When adults have missing teeth, most replace these teeth through implants, bridges, dentures, or a combination of these options.
Putting a Stop To Tooth Decay
Good dental hygiene is the most effective way to stop the onset of tooth decay. Regular flossing and brushing, as well as fluoride treatments, can help prevent decay and reverse the mineral loss. Minimizing your sugar intake can also reduce plaque buildup.
Regular trips to the dentist (at least twice a year!) are recommended to prevent early-stage decay. For all of your dental concerns, Premier Dental Center is here to help, so call us today to schedule an exam.