Tooth decay is the process by which a tooth breaks down. Tooth decay progresses along a predictable line of steps. It is a complex process that can be divided into four main stages: demineralization, enamel erosion, dentin caries and pulpitis; and a final stage which is the formation of an abscess.
Tooth decay begins with demineralization, involving the slow breaking down of tooth enamel, which is comprised mainly of minerals.
This occurs due to plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on teeth. When plaque is not removed, the acids it produces begin to eat away at tooth enamel.
The loss of minerals from tooth enamel makes it weaker and more susceptible to further damage.
This is the second stage of tooth decay, and occurs when the tooth enamel has been significantly weakened by demineralization.
At this stage, the enamel begins to break down and wear away, exposing the underlying dentin layer.
This is the third stage of tooth decay. Dentin decay occurs when the dentin layer becomes infected with bacteria.
As the bacteria continue to multiply, they start to eat away at the dentin layer, causing it to become weak and brittle.
This is the fourth stage of tooth decay, and occurs when the bacteria reach the pulp chamber of the tooth.
The pulp chamber is filled with blood vessels and nerves, which can become infected and inflamed, causing severe pain.
This is the final stage of severe tooth decay, and occurs when the infection spreads to the surrounding tissues.
A tooth abscess is an inflamed, pus-filled pocket that forms around the tooth, and can lead to serious health complications if not treated promptly.
If you think you may have tooth decay, it is important to see a dentist as soon as possible. They will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend the best course of treatment.
Treatments for All Stages of Tooth Decay
You kind find treatment for all stages of tooth decay at your local dental clinic. Early stages of demineralization and enamel erosion can typically be resolved with improved dental hygiene habits and increased fluoride exposure.
More advanced tooth decay may require more invasive treatments, such as:
- Dental fillings: a common treatment for cavities, dental fillings involve removing the decayed portion of the tooth and filling the area with a synthetic material.
- Dental crowns: also known as a “cap,” a dental crown is used to cover and protect a tooth that has been damaged by decay.
- Root canals: a root canal is a treatment to save a tooth that is badly decayed or infected. The procedure involves removing the damaged pulp from the center of the tooth and cleaning and sealing the area.
- Extractions: in some cases, a tooth may be so badly damaged that it needs to be removed.
Preventing Tooth Decay
The best way to prevent tooth decay is to practice good oral hygiene habits and to see your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.
Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily will help remove plaque from your teeth and gums.
See your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and checkup.