The Five Stages Of Tooth Decay – Understanding The Condition

Before looking into the various stages of tooth decay, you should first understand the basic structure of the tooth and what tooth decay actually is. This will help you learn how the condition slowly progresses and culminates in further complications.

The Basic Tooth Structure

Let’s start with the basics. For the ones that didn’t pay close attention in middle school, teeth in humans have external and internal structures.

The External Structures

  • Crown: The part of the tooth that is above the gums.
  • Root: The part that’s hidden below the gums.

The Internal Structures

  • Pulp: The innermost part of the tooth, which contains blood vessels and nerves.
  • Dentin: The layer that surrounds the pulp.
  • Enamel: A hard, protective outer layer that covers the crown.
  • Cementum: The hard layer that covers the dentin of the root.

What Is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay is a degradation process that results in permanent structural damage to the infected tooth. It is also colloquially known as ‘tooth cavity’ and scientifically termed ‘dental caries’.

stages of tooth decay

As the stages of tooth decay progress, the infection spreads to the tip of the root

The two chief causes of tooth decay are:

  • A diet that’s high in sugars
  • Poor dental hygiene

After each meal, food debris clings to the teeth. If this is not brushed away, the bacteria in the mouth transform the sugars in the food debris into acids. These acids then cause a breakdown of the tooth structure. As the stages of tooth decay keep progressing, the infection spreads to nearby teeth as well.

What Are The Stages Of Tooth Decay?

There are five key stages of tooth decay, and these are characterized by the tooth decay symptoms that are exhibited:

Stage One: White Spots

  • The first stage of tooth decay involves the appearance of yellowish spots or chalky white areas on the surface of tooth due to the loss of calcium.
  • Such tooth decay is still reversible, with proper treatment.

The decaying tooth can be saved by the application of fluoride and certain minerals present in the saliva. During the initial stages of tooth decay, the condition can be easily countered.

Stage Two: Enamel Decay

  • During this stage, the tooth enamel starts breaking below the surface layer, with the surface intact.
  • If the decay persists, the surface of the tooth will be broken and this damage is irreversible.

At this stage, your tooth needs to be cleaned and filled by your dentist.

Stage Three: Dentin Decay

  • In the third stage, the decay progresses beyond the enamel into the dentin.
  • At this juncture, your dentist can still restore the affected tooth with a filling.

The pain levels also start intensifying along with the many stages of tooth decay. Any dental pain should be immediately noted so that the problem can be dealt with soon.

Stage Four: Involvement Of The Pulp

  • The pulp of the tooth gets involved and infected due to the action of bacteria.
  • Pus formation results, causing the blood vessels and nerves in the pulp to die.

At this stage, root canal therapy is the only option of treatment.

Stage Five: Abscess Formation

  • The infection reaches the root tip of the tooth.
  • The bones surrounding the tooth also get infected, causing severe pain.
  • This is the final stage of the infection.
  • You may have visible swelling on the cheeks, along the affected side.
  • Your dentist will prescribe antibiotics and painkillers.

The dentist may perform a root canal therapy or remove the infected tooth at this stage.

An extremely simple fact to remember is that you can easily prevent tooth decay. The stages of tooth decay are easy note – all you need to do is pay attention to your dental hygiene and get regular check-ups done.

It is also important to spot the symptoms early, because the damage caused during the later stages of tooth decay can be irreversible.


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