The 5 stages of tooth decay

Tooth decay occurs in several stages, spanning from initial demineralisation to painful dental abscesses. Between cavities, abscesses or even total tooth loss, the tooth decay process is caused by the presence of bacteria that live in dental plaque. Read on for more information about each of the stages of tooth decay, and some helpful tips on how to prevent this painful and uncomfortable process from happening to you.

Stage 1: Initial demineralisation

The outer layer of a tooth is coated in enamel which is made up mainly of minerals. Enamel is slowly broken down when it is exposed to acids from the food and drinks that we eat. The main cause of decay to enamel is caused by plaque bacteria with the initial demineralisation appearing as a white spot on your tooth which is a sign of tooth decay.

Stage 2: Enamel decay

As the tooth decay process continues, the enamel will break down further, and the initial white spot may darken to reveal a yellow brownish hue which is the dentin under your enamel. You will also often notice small cavities that appear in your tooth and it’s important to pay a visit to your dentist to have these filled to prevent further damage and decay in your teeth.

Stage 3: Dentin decay

Dentin is the tissue that sits underneath a tooth’s enamel. Dentin is soft and extremely sensitive, so by the time decay reaches the dentin layer, the overall tooth decay process speeds up. When dentin is affected by tooth decay, you may begin experiencing sensitivity on your teeth, particularly with hot or cold drinks.

Stage 4: Pulp damage

A tooth’s pulp is its innermost layer that contains blood vessels and nerves that keep your teeth healthy. Once decay reaches it, the pulp can start to swell up and place pressure on surrounding nerves. This can lead to extreme tooth pain.

Step 5: Abscess

Once tooth decay has advanced into the pulp, an infection can be caused by infiltrating bacteria. This increased inflammation can lead to a pocket forming at the base of your tooth, which is called an abscess. A tooth abscess can be extremely serious and require immediate medical treatment. It can cause severe pain into your jaw, face and neck.

How to avoid tooth decay

There are a few prevention strategies that can lessen your chance of potential tooth decay. These include regular dentist check-ups, brushing your teeth regularly and effectively, and limiting sweets or foods with a high volume of sugar. In broader terms, maintaining a healthy and structured oral hygiene schedule is vital in preventing tooth decay or other tooth damage.

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