It’s easy for us to take our adult teeth for granted. After losing our baby teeth and gaining a full set of “permanent” teeth, we assume we’ll have them for the rest of our lives. However, teeth are vulnerable when they aren’t taken care of properly.
Tooth decay can set in quickly, and if it’s not addressed right away and kept at bay through proper oral hygiene, it can result in serious problems. Many people with late-stage tooth decay need to have their teeth surgically removed, and they often experienced other complications, including infection.
As dentists, we’re trained to diagnose and treat all five stages of tooth decay:
The first stage of tooth decay is caused when a tooth is exposed to significant amounts of acid produced by plaque bacteria. When teeth aren’t brushed and plaque is allowed to sit on teeth, they will slowly begin to lose the minerals that make up their enamel. Stage 1 tooth decay can be detected by looking for small white spots on teeth, which indicate a loss of minerals and enamel.
Stage 2—Enamel Decay
The second stage of tooth decay involves the further break down of tooth enamel. People who have developed white spots due to mineral loss will notice them turning a brownish color, which indicates even greater loss of minerals and enamel. Stage 2 of tooth decay puts people at much higher risk of developing cavities due to weakened enamel.
Stage 3—Dentin Decay
Beneath tooth enamel is a tissue called dentin. When enamel wears down, it exposes dentin to decay. Because dentin is softer than enamel, it’s more sensitive to the effects of acid produced by plaque bacteria, and that means it decays faster than enamel. When dentin begins to decay, it can cause sensitivity, as it contains tubes leading to the nerves of teeth.
Stage 4—Pulp Damage
When dentin begins to fully decay, it exposes pulp, which is the innermost part of a tooth. Nerves and blood vessels are located in the pulp. When decay begins to affect pulp, people can experience irritation and swelling, increased sensitivity, and pain. Early damage to pulp can be treated and reversed, but later stage damage may require root canals or tooth extraction.
When pulp becomes heavily damaged, bacteria can spread and multiply inside the tooth near blood vessels and nerves. This can result in significant inflammation and a pocket of pus near the bottom of the tooth called an abscess. Tooth abscesses result in severe pain that can spread into the jaw, and they require immediate treatment involving antibiotics and tooth extraction.
How We Treat Tooth Decay
Early stages of tooth decay can be managed and reversed by improving oral hygiene and care. That includes regular brushing, flossing, and fluoride treatments. When teeth are severely damaged by plaque bacteria, more intensive treatments are required.
We use both fillings and crowns to reinforce and protect teeth that has been heavily damaged by bacteria that has affected their enamel, dentin, and even pulp. We know that many people dislike the look of fillings and crowns, and that’s we always use tooth-colored materials. Once installed, they’re unnoticeable but still provide the same level of reinforcement and protection our patients need.
Schedule an Appointment Today to Stay on Top of Your Oral Health
Regular visits to the dentist are the best way to stop tooth decay in its tracks and begin to reverse it. And if you don’t have signs of tooth decay, regular cleanings can ensure it never starts.
We’re accepting new patients, and we’d love to get to know you and help you protect your oral health for years to come. Request a dental appointment today with our team of dental experts.