Do you think you may be suffering from tooth decay?
Over 2.4 billion people worldwide experience problems with untreated tooth decay. Tooth decay isn’t just unsightly. Tooth decay can also cause toothaches, tooth sensitivity, bad breath, gum disease, and tooth abscess.
To make sure you don’t experience more problems, it’s very important that you catch tooth decay early. In order to catch it early, you need to be aware of the stages of tooth decay.
Check out this guide to discover the different stages of tooth decay.
What is Tooth Decay?
First things first, what exactly is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is a progressive issue in which the acid-forming bacteria in your mouth weakens the surface of your teeth. The acid causes a small hole in your tooth, which is known as a cavity. Bacteria then enter inside this hole, causing an infection.
Typically, you don’t know right away when you have tooth decay, as the early stages are painless. The only way to spot the early signs of tooth decay is to see a dentist on a regular basis. A dentist can use specialized tools to spot the rot and treat the problem before it becomes a bigger issue.
Tooth decay usually happens when you eat a lot of sugary, processed foods and don’t stick to a regular diet. However, some medical conditions and even medications can cause tooth decay.
The best way to prevent tooth decay is to brush and floss your teeth on a regular basis and visit the dentist twice per year for a regular checkup.
The Stages of Tooth Decay
Now that you know a little bit about tooth decay, let’s talk about the stages of tooth decay. To understand the stages of tooth decay, one must first understand the different parts of the tooth.
A tooth has three layers: the enamel, dentine, and pulp.
- Enamel: This is the outer part of your tooth that you can see above the gums. It’s the hardest substance in the human body, and its job is to protect the softer, more sensitive inside of your tooth
- Dentine: This is the yellow layer that exists below the enamel and is softer and more porous than enamel
- Pulp: This is the innermost layer of the tooth. It has a soft center and contains blood vessels and nerve tissue
Stage One: Enamel Lesion
Enamel lesion is the first stage of tooth decay. Although your enamel is very strong, it’s not indestructible, and bacteria can definitely penetrate your enamel under the right conditions.
The first stage of tooth decay happens when brown or white lesions form on the enamel. This then leads to a cavity or hole in your tooth. These lesions aren’t visible on x-rays, but a trained dentist will know what to look for.
Also, keep in mind that the enamel isn’t susceptible to pain, making this stage even more difficult to notice.
If caught early, a dentist can use fluoride, dental sealants, or other cleaning treatments to fix an enamel lesion.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
The second stage of tooth decay is enamel decay.
In this stage, the lesion is no longer superficial, as it creates a cavity or hole in your mouth. Your dentist will be able to spot the second stage of tooth decay using an x-ray machine.
You’re not likely to feel pain at this stage. However, you can feel some sensitivity if the cavity is deep enough.
At this point, the cavity can’t be reversed, as the body can’t regrow tooth enamel. However, your dentist can stop the decay from spreading by drilling out the decay and covering the area with a tooth-colored filling.
This is a safe, predictable, and very common way to fix a cavity.
Stage Three: Dentine Decay
If the decay still isn’t caught by this point, then it will travel to the dentine, the second layer of your tooth.
Because the dentine is porous and sponge-like, bacteria can spread through it rather easily. Therefore, you’ll need to act quickly to prevent the decay from spreading any further.
At this point, you will experience sensitivity or a slight toothache. To make your tooth whole and healthy again at this stage, you’ll need a dental crown, filling, or inlay/outlay.
Stage Four: Pulp Decay
If the bacteria spreads all the way to the soft inside of your tooth, you’ll experience what’s known as a root canal infection.
This will cause you significant pain, and the only way to clear up the infection is to receive root canal treatment. If you’re asking yourself, “How do I know if I need a root canal?”, tooth pain is often the top sign to look out for.
During a root canal procedure, your dentist will remove the infected pulp from the inside of your tooth.
They’ll then thoroughly clean out your canals and fill them with a special dental material.
Stage Five: Formation of Abscess
If the decay still hasn’t been caught by this point, then the formation of the abscess will occur.
A dental abscess is a pocket of puss that won’t go away on its own. If left untreated, the bacteria in your tooth can spread to your jawbone, neck, and ear. In some rare cases, it can even go to the brain, making this condition very serious.
You’ll definitely know when you have a tooth abscess, as it’s excruciatingly painful. Oftentimes, the pain is so bad that sleep will be difficult.
If you think you may be suffering from a tooth abscess, you should see a dentist immediately.
Stages of Tooth Decay: Wrap Up
Now that you know about the stages of tooth decay, you’ll know what to look out for.
However, if you brush and floss your teeth regularly and see the dentist twice per year, you should have nothing to worry about.
Be sure to check back in with our blog for more oral hygiene-related tips and tricks!