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What are the Stages of Tooth Decay?

Published Date: 29 May 2024
Category: Dental Implant

You probably know that a dental cavity is a hole in one of your teeth, right? And you might also know that a cavity is the result of tooth decay that happens over time. This is why regular dental visits are so important—catching tooth decay early means it can be easily treated and possibly even reversed. So, what exactly are the stages of tooth decay?

Let’s break it down together.

What is Tooth Decay?

Alright, let’s start with the basics. 

Tooth decay, also known as dental caries, is the process that happens when the bacteria in your mouth produce acids that eat away at your tooth enamel. This process can eventually create holes (cavities) in your teeth if not treated. It all starts with plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth when you eat or drink anything sugary or starchy. If you don’t clean your teeth properly, plaque can build up and cause tooth decay.

Causes of Tooth Decay

So, what actually causes tooth decay? It’s a mix of a few different things, and understanding these can help you take better care of your teeth. 

Chocolate can Cause Tooth Decay

Poor oral hygiene is a major culprit not brushing and flossing regularly can lead to a buildup of plaque, which is a breeding ground for bacteria. These bacteria produce acids that erode your tooth enamel.

Another big factor is a diet high in sugars and starches. Foods and drinks loaded with sugar and starches feed the bacteria in your mouth, leading to more acid production. This includes not just sweets but also bread, pasta, and fizzy drinks.

Lack of fluoride is another contributor. Fluoride helps to strengthen your enamel and make it more resistant to acid attacks. If you’re not using fluoride toothpaste or drinking non-fluoridated water, you’re more at risk.

Dry mouth can also play a role. Saliva washes away food and neutralises acids. So, if your mouth is dry (which can be caused by medications, certain medical conditions, or simply not drinking enough water), decay is more likely.

Frequent snacking and sipping on sugary drinks gives bacteria a steady supply of fuel to produce acids, increasing the risk of decay. Understanding these causes can help you make better choices for your oral health.

The Stages of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a gradual process that occurs in distinct stages. Each stage represents a deeper level of damage to your tooth. Understanding these stages can help you recognise the signs early and take action to prevent further damage.

1. Initial Demineralisation

The first stage of tooth decay is when the acids from sugary or acidic foods start attacking your enamel, the hard outer layer of your tooth. You might notice white spots on your teeth—this is the enamel losing minerals. It’s a sign that decay is starting, but at this stage, it’s still reversible. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and cutting back on sugary snacks can help stop this process.

2. Enamel Decay

If the initial demineralisation isn’t addressed, the enamel continues to break down. This leads to the formation of small cavities or holes in your teeth. You might see or feel a rough spot on your tooth, which is a clear indicator that decay has moved to this stage. It’s important to visit your dentist regularly so they can catch and treat these cavities early.

3. Dentin Decay

Once the decay gets through the enamel, it reaches the dentin, the layer beneath the enamel. Dentin is softer than enamel and less resistant to acid, so the decay spreads more quickly at this stage. You might start feeling some sensitivity, especially when eating hot, cold, or sweet foods. This is your tooth’s way of telling you that it needs some attention.

4 Pulp Damage

If the decay isn’t treated, it will continue to spread. It will spread until it reaches the pulp, the tooth’s innermost part. The pulp contains nerves and blood vessels. This stage can be quite painful because the pulp becomes irritated and inflamed. 

5. Abscess Formation

The final stage of tooth decay is the formation of an abscess, which is a pocket of pus caused by a bacterial infection. This happens when the infection spreads to the root of the tooth and the surrounding bone structure. An abscess can cause severe pain, swelling, and even fever. It’s a serious condition that needs immediate treatment to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body.

Preventing Tooth Decay

Now, no one wants to deal with any of these stages, so here are some top tips to keep your teeth in top shape:

  • Brush Twice Daily: Use fluoride toothpaste and make sure you’re brushing for at least two minutes each time.
  • Floss daily: Flossing removes food and plaque from between your teeth. Your toothbrush can’t reach there.
  • Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and clean. They can catch problems early and give your teeth a professional clean.
  • Healthy Diet: Reduce your intake of sugary and acidic foods and drinks. Opt for water, milk, and cheese, which can help protect your teeth.
  • Don’t Ignore Problems: If you notice any signs of decay, like sensitivity or white spots, get it checked out by your dentist straight away.
So, What’s The Final Take on Tooth Decay?

Understanding the stages of tooth decay and taking steps to prevent it, helps you keep your smile bright and healthy. Remember, looking after your teeth is a big part of looking after yourself. If you are suffering from it or want to have quick advice over it, step in to your nearest House of Smile Design clinic or book your appointment now.


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