Tooth decay can quickly advance from a minor problem to a major one.
It’s possible to stop this rapid advancement with proper dental hygiene and regular dental visits.
However, many people don’t realize that they are experiencing the symptoms of tooth decay before it’s too late, and that can lead to cavities, mouth pain, abscesses, and even tooth loss.
It’s important that everyone learns the stages of tooth decay. Armed with knowledge about tooth decay, you can be much better prepared to stop it in its tracks.
Read on to learn all about tooth decay and how you can keep it from advancing in your mouth.
What Is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is damage that happens to your teeth thanks to certain types of bacteria that live in on the plaque in your mouth. When you eat foods that contain sugar, this bacteria changes those sugars into acids. Then, those acids begin to break down your teeth over time.
Everyone is susceptible to tooth decay, but people who eat a lot of sugary foods or drink a lot of sugary beverages are at higher risk for it. However, it’s easy to ward off potential damage by taking good care of your teeth.
The Stages of Tooth Decay
There are five stages of tooth decay. As tooth decay advances, it becomes more difficult to treat. Furthermore, the treatments become more invasive at each stage.
All stages of tooth decay can be treated, but it’s far wiser to stop the advancement of tooth decay early on than to depend on the expense and discomfort of the potential treatments.
Stage One: Just a Spot
The first stage of tooth decay is simply a small spot on your tooth. It may be too small for you to see; also, its white or yellow color can make it unnoticeable as well. However, your dentist will be able to see it right away, which is one reason why regular dental visits are so important.
These spots are caused by a mineral deficiency that is caused by plaque buildup. Fortunately, these spots can be removed and the decay can be reversed. All you will need to do is brush and floss twice daily. Make sure your brushing is thorough and reaches all parts of each of your teeth.
Stage Two: Decay Begins
If you don’t see the spot or don’t make moves to brush and floss more thoroughly, the next stage of tooth decay is the beginning of the true decay. Due to the spot, the enamel on your tooth will begin to break down; in time, the light-colored spot will become dark.
This is a dental cavity. You can’t reverse this damage on your own, but your dentist can drill and fill the cavity. You will not feel any pain during this process in most cases. However, if you have several cavities, the cost to have them fixed can add up fast; it’s better to take care of your teeth so your decay never advances to this stage.
Stage Three: Decay Continues
The layer of teeth that is below the enamel is called dentin. The enamel on your teeth is a hard layer that exists to protect this softer layer below it. However, when the enamel wears off, the dentin is exposed and is therefore much more sensitive to damage from acid. As a result, tooth decay moves quickly through the dentin.
The dentin in your teeth also connects to the nerves so once your tooth decay has reached stage three, you may begin to feel some pain as a result of it. Teeth in stage three often become quite sensitive, especially to hot and cold fluids or foods.
When a dentist sees a tooth in stage three of tooth decay, he or she will likely suggest a larger filling than those used to repair problems in stage two. A crown is another potential option to repair decay at this stage.
Stage Four: Serious Decay
Below the dentin is the pulp of your tooth. This is the deepest layer. This is where the nerves are located and the blood that flows into your teeth. You will likely feel more pain at this stage; when the acid reaches the pulp layer, the pulp will begin to swell, and this can lead to major sensitivity and difficulty chewing.
In order to treat this level of decay, your dentist will need to perform a root canal. This procedure is rather invasive. Your dentist will drain the tooth of fluid and will remove the decaying tissue. Then, he or she will fill up the empty space with a filler instead.
Stage Five: Abscesses
If you don’t address your tooth decay problems in stage four, then your tooth will reach the final stage. Stage five is the most painful and the most serious of the stages of tooth decay. At this point, your infection is so advanced that your mouth will become infected. This infection can spread to your gums, your jaw, or your tongue.
Abscesses that are the result of tooth decay will require urgent attention from your dentist. You will need surgery to stop and cure the infection and you may need to have the tooth extracted. Stage five is very serious and you don’t want to let your tooth decay progress to this level.
Fight Tooth Decay With Good Dental Hygiene
As you can see, the five stages of tooth decay advance from minor to bad to worse. However, it’s fortunately quite possible to avoid this progression by taking care of your teeth before this problem begins, and if you do find the telltale spots that signify the first stage of tooth decay, take steps to reverse it right away.
Be sure to brush and floss twice a day and visit your dentist for a cleaning and check-up twice a year. Once you know the alternative – advanced tooth decay – you’ll be glad that you took these steps to stop it in its tracks. Good luck!
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