6 Stages of Tooth Decay
Get motivated to take better care of your teeth by learning about the 6 stages of tooth decay.
In most cases, tooth decay is a relatively slow process. Often, it can take years for the decay to progress through all six stages. This makes it very tempting for people to ignore tooth decay in its early stages. Unfortunately, the longer you delay treatment the more difficult—and expensive—tooth decay is to correct.
Hopefully the following description of the 6 stages of tooth decay will motivate you to take excellent care of your teeth at home, keep up with your routine dental cleanings & exams, and see your dentist promptly in the event of any tooth pain from a developing cavity.
The very first stage of tooth decay is characterized by white spots on the tooth. These spots signal that calcium has been leached from the tooth by acids in the mouth. These acids may be produced by plaque bacteria or by drinking acidic beverages like sodas and sports drinks. At this early stage, it is entirely possible for the decay to correct itself through the body’s natural process of re-mineralization, in which saliva carries vital minerals to the tooth to replenish the lost material. Some types of sensitive toothpaste can aid in this process.
If the decay outpaces the re-mineralization process, the white spots will grow into lesions. These lesions will break through the surface of the tooth enamel and begin causing decay beneath the surface. Often, these lesions are not particularly painful but they may show up as a brown or discolored spot.
As the enamel lesions grow, they will eventually reach the next layer of the tooth, called dentin. This will lead to sensitivity as stimuli from pressure, temperature, and acids can now reach the nerves of the tooth through tubes in the structure of the dentin. Eventually the surface of the lesion will collapse creating a cavity. At this point it is essential to have the cavity cleaned and filled by your dentist in order to stop the decay and the associated pain.
If you do not get professional dental treatment for the cavity, it may grow to the point where it reaches the innermost chamber of the tooth where the pulp and nerves are located. The cavity will provide bacteria with a path to the pulp and nerves and they will become infected. This condition can be quite painful, but it may still be possible to save the tooth if you get a root canal from a skilled dentist in time.
If the infection is not treated and cured, the tooth may become infected all the way down to the tips of the roots. The dying tooth pulp will turn into pus, which will cause a swelling or abscess beneath the gum line. It is even possible for the jaw bone to become infected.
Without any treatment, tooth decay can and will eventually cause tooth loss. In fact, along with gum disease it is a top cause of tooth loss in American adults. You will have to have your tooth extracted by a dentist and perhaps replaced with a dental implant to correct the problem.