Stages of Tooth Decay

Tooth Decay - Rigby Dental

When people think of tooth decay, they often think of gruesome details like rotting teeth, horrible breath, and some pretty excruciating pain. While these are all factors in later stages, the fact is that if you’re watching this, there’s probably tooth decay occurring in your mouth to some degree right now, even if you aren’t aware of it.

Tooth decay starts of slow, but it can increase pretty rapidly. In this video, we’ll be discussing the stages of tooth decay from beginning to end, and how your dentist can help.

All right, to start off, let’s talk about the main culprit in almost all dental problems – plaque.

Slimy Plaque - rigby dental office

Plaque is that sticky substance that builds up on your teeth when you don’t brush. Plaque results from a combination of carbohydrates in the food that you eat, with the bacteria that naturally lives in your mouth. That’s why foods that are high in carbohydrates are associated with a higher risk for plaque, and therefore with tooth decay. Once this acid forms, it starts collecting food particulates leftover in your mouth, and a nasty, sticky paste forms. This is plaque.

Tooth decay starts with the erosion of your enamel – that’s the protective outer layer of the tooth. This process is called “demineralization”, and it’s probably happening in your mouth right now, but the good news is that tooth enamel can naturally be replenished. Enamel is constantly being attacked by plaque, but the body is often also in the process of “remineralizing” it, so to speak. It does so by replenishing worn-out areas with various minerals, especially calcium.

That said, if your dental hygiene is particularly bad, plaque can end up wearing down the enamel and making its way to the dentin. That’s the white, bony layer of the tooth. Once a hole is worn down in the dentin, you officially have a cavity. This is where things will probably start to hurt.

Cavities can’t be solved by merely brushing better. At this point, the damage is done, and you’ll probably need a filling from your dentist.

If left unsolved, the acid in plaque will continue wearing its way into the tooth until it reaches the pulp. That’s the soft, fleshy material that contains the tooth nerve. If you thought cavities hurt, just wait until your tooth pulp starts swelling because of an infection. The reason this is so painful is that the swelling is suppressed by the surrounding dentin, and all that pressure gets focused down onto the tooth nerve and surrounding blood vessels. This can cut off circulation and kill the tooth root. At this stage, you’ll require a root canal.

The final stage of tooth decay is the formation of an abscess. This is essentially an inflamed pocket of pus that forms near the tooth root. It often shows up on the gumline and looks a lot like a pimple. At this stage, your dentist can drain the abscess and perform a root canal.

No matter what stage of dental decay you’re dealing with, your dentist can help! Just remember, the longer you put it off, the worse it’s going to get. Your dentist will take care of the problem and, ultimately, eliminate the pain.