The 4 Stages of Tooth Decay and How to Prevent Progression

stages of tooth decay

What is tooth decay?

Tooth decay is a serious dental issue that can affect anyone. It’s what causes cavities and can result in needing fillings, root canals, and even tooth extractions. But by understanding the four stages of tooth decay, you can prevent further progression and find treatment before it gets any worse.

  1. Initial Demineralization

Your teeth have several layers, the outermost being enamel. This is the hard, durable surface that stands up to the everyday pressures of chewing and speaking. It also protects the inner layers of your teeth against bacteria that occur naturally in your mouth.

However, this protective enamel can be worn away by the acid that bacteria produce. This is the earliest stage of tooth decay. At this point, you may see chalky, white spots forming on your teeth. These are plaque deposits that will accelerate the tooth decay process.

At this stage, prevention is the best response. You can keep decay from advancing by maintaining an effective brushing and flossing routine. If you’re prone to developing plaque, consider a special mouthwash that specifically targets it.

It’s also important to visit your dentist on a regular basis to prevent tooth decay from worsening. Plaque and tartar deposits are too hard to deal with using a regular toothbrush and toothpaste. That’s why regular dental cleanings are so vital. Your dentist has special tools that they can use during a cleaning to scrape away these harmful deposits.

Fluoride is also very important when it comes to battling plaque. Often called nature’s cavity fighter, fluoride helps remineralize the enamel, building back up its first layer of protection. 

Your dentist may prescribe special fluoride toothpaste to you or even recommend professional fluoride treatments if your teeth are prone to plaque.

  1. Enamel Decay

Weakened enamel won’t immediately lead to damage, but your tooth becomes more susceptible beginning in the second stage of tooth decay. Without enough protective calcium, the acid from the naturally occurring bacteria in your mouth begins to eat away at the enamel.

When your enamel starts to decay, cavities can form. These tiny pockets can turn into holes that expose the inner, sensitive part of your tooth. As these holes expand, they form the perfect breeding ground for even more bacteria. This reduces the effectiveness of your regular brushing routine, leading to further tooth decay and more serious problems.

This is another reason why regular dental visits are so important. A dentist can spot cavities before they get too big, which means that they can perform a filling before the problem escalates.

A filling seals off the area from any bacteria and restores the surface of your tooth. Considering how fast and relatively painless a filling can be, it’s in your best interests to treat this early stage of tooth decay right away, rather than taking the risk of it progressing any further.

  1. Dentin Decay

Dentin is the layer underneath the enamel. It’s a much softer material inside your tooth that is normally protected by the enamel. However, if tooth decay creates a cavity that extends to the dentin, then the decay can spread very quickly and soon become a major problem.

A cavity will become noticeable with a visual inspection, often simply from looking in the mirror. You may experience tooth pain and significant sensitivity. At this point, it’s not enough to just seek out toothache remedies. You’ll need to get a dental filling as soon as possible.

In some cases, a dental filling may not be enough to resolve a cavity that reaches the dentin. Once the softer layer has been compromised, there’s a chance that bacteria has already taken hold inside your teeth.

At this point, a root canal is the most effective option to prevent further decay. It’s important to get the procedure done soon if you want to avoid a tooth extraction. In some cases, you may also need a dental crown to restore the tooth following the root canal procedure.

  1. Pulp Damage

The pulp is the innermost part of the tooth. It’s made up of tissue that includes nerves and blood vessels that can become infected and cause major complications. These infections can become intensely painful and can potentially lead to a dental emergency. A root canal is the only effective treatment to deal with pulp damage while keeping the tooth.

Such an infection can lead to an abscessed tooth, which will almost always require extraction. The infection causes a pocket filled with pus to form around the roots of the tooth, causing serious pain and potentially affecting the bone and gums.

Tooth Decay Prevention and Treatment in Austin, TX

As you can tell, tooth decay is nothing to mess around with. If your teeth are growing sensitive and painful, it’s crucial that you schedule a consultation today so you can keep your smile strong.

Parmer Lane Family Dentistry can help you and your family with all of your restorative and preventive dentistry needs. We provide routine checkups and teeth cleanings for the best in prevention. We also perform fillings, root canals, and everything else related to family dental services in Austin, TX.Contact Parmer Lane Family Dentistry today to book your appointment.

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