You’ve heard it repeatedly from your dentist: if you don’t brush regularly or you eat too much sugar, you’ll end up with cavities. What you may not know, however, is that a cavity won’t just appear overnight. Tooth decay is a process with 5 stages, and it’s important that you are able to recognize the warning signs so you can respond appropriately, and ultimately save your smile! Read on to learn more about what happens when the bacteria and acids in your mouth start to eat away at your enamel.
1. First Stage: White Spots Appear
The very earliest sign that something is wrong with your teeth will be the formation of white spots, which will appear just below the surface of the enamel. These spots are a result of demineralization. This is when the minerals that make up the tooth start to wear away and are not quickly replaced. At this point, you may be able to reverse the damage by using fluoride toothpaste or by receiving a fluoride application from your dentist.
2. Second Stage: Enamel Decay
After a while, the enamel itself will start to break down. During the first part of this second stage, the erosion will begin with the underside of the enamel, and the outer part of the tooth will actually stay intact. After the cavity appears in the enamel itself, however, you’ll be beyond the point where improved hygiene can solve the problem; you’ll need to get a filling.
3. Third Stage: Dentin Decay
Below the enamel is a softer material known as dentin. It will be vulnerable to decay once the enamel is eaten through. This is the point where you might experience some discomfort or tooth sensitivity. This means that you are more likely to notice the decay if you didn’t catch it during the first two stages. A filling will still be a viable option at this point.
4. Fourth Stage: Infected Pulp
Once the infection reaches the pulp – the part of the tooth that contains nerve endings – any pain you experienced before will become much worse. The tooth will be in serious danger by now, as further decay could badly weaken its overall structure. If you don’t want to end up with a gap in your smile, you’ll need to have a root canal performed.
5. Fifth Stage: An Abscess Forms
Eventually, the infection will reach the root of the tooth and spread to the surrounding gum tissue (or possibly even the bone). Severe pain and swelling might occur, and the condition could even be fatal under certain circumstances. Root canal therapy might still be possible at this point, but sometimes there will simply be no other choice but to have the tooth removed.
Regular visits to the dentist as well as paying attention to any worrisome changes in your mouth will give you your best chance of stopping tooth decay before it reaches its final stages. Never take any chances when it comes to the safety of your teeth!
About the Practice
Our dentists at Bethel Dental are proud to help patients of all ages protect their oral health and well-being. They offer a comprehensive list of treatments, including tooth-colored fillings for early decay as well as root canal therapy and tooth extractions for more severe infections. If you think you have a cavity and are looking for a practice that makes use of the latest techniques and technologies, make an appointment by visiting our website today.