The Progression of Tooth Decay
Understanding how tooth decay progresses may help you understand how to better protect your teeth and your health. Tooth decay is incredibly common, but it can be prevented. It can even be reversed if discovered in an early stage. Tooth decay left untreated can lead to a multitude of problems, such as, cavities, abscessed teeth, infections, and even loss of teeth. There are five distinct stages of tooth decay progression. Each stage has its own identifying features and treatment varies by the stage of progress. Tooth decay begins on the surface level and works its way down within the internal structure of the tooth.
Stage 1: White Spots
In stage one, the tooth begins to show signs that it is being attacked by sugar and acid. White spots will begin to appear just below the surface of the enamel. These white spots signal the demineralization of the tooth. They are hard to notice on your own, however, a routine dental exam allows your dentist to identify these early signs of tooth decay. Your dentist may recommend methods, such as using fluoride toothpaste, to remineralize the tooth and reverse the decay.
Stage 2: Enamel Decay
If the tooth continues to lose minerals, the enamel will begin to decay. Initially, the decay will erode from the white spot up through the enamel coming from within. Once the decay breaks through the surface of the enamel, the erosion will continue from the outside eating away the tooth until a filling is done. Decay at this point is irreversible, but the filling will stop the decay from progressing. A filling will also disinfect the tooth and restore it.
Stage 3: Dentin Decay
At this stage, the cavity deepens to the second layer of tooth material: the dentin. A filling can still be used to stop the cavity from reaching the tooth’s most important area: the pulp.
Stage 4: Pulp Involvement
The pulp is the tooth’s center made up of living tissue and nerves. If the pulp of a tooth gets infected with bacteria, it can kill the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth. This can cause a toothache. At this stage, the most common course of treatment is root canal therapy.
Stage 5: Abscess
Abscess formation is the final stage of tooth decay and the most painful stage. Once the infection reaches the root tip of the tooth, there is a risk that the bone can be infected too. An extraction may be needed by this point.