Understanding the Stages of Tooth Decay
By J. Brent Gorrell on October 03, 2017
Maintaining good oral health is possible through routine dental exams and cleanings. But did you know that understanding the various stages of tooth decay could help you identify signs and symptoms before they worsen? If you notice something is not quite right, you can schedule an appointment before your next cleaning to make sure we repair the cavity while it is still manageable.
In Mountain View, CA, Dr. J. Brent Gorrell can perform various treatments in restorative dentistry to address decay. By treating cavities before they progress, you can prevent more extensive treatment or tooth loss later on.
Stage One: Demineralization
The first stage of tooth decay is characterized by chalky, white spots on the surface of the teeth. These areas of demineralization occur as a result of calcium loss and plaque build-up. The bacteria found in plaque turn sugar into acid, which compromises the strength of the tooth enamel. The good news is that demineralization is often reversible with the use of fluoride. In combination with excellent dental hygiene, a topical fluoride treatment will effectively remineralize the tooth enamel, reducing the chance of further issues.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
If left untreated, demineralization will become irreversible. The enamel continues to lose calcium and phosphate minerals, and begins to break down, resulting in a lesion within the tooth structure. As enamel decay progresses, risk of breakage becomes higher. In the event of a fractured tooth, you should contact us immediately.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
Dentin is located beneath the layer of enamel. Once the acids and bacteria destroy the enamel, they will begin to dissolve the dentin and form a dental cavity. Once this occurs, pain and sensitivity can become more prevalent as the infection worsens. Typically, a dental filling will most likely be necessary to restore a tooth compromised by dentin decay.
Stage Four: Infection of the Pulp
Once the bacteria reach the pulp of the tooth, the situation becomes more critical. Beneath the protective layers of enamel and dentin, the pulp contains living tissues and cells. If the infection reaches the pulp chamber, it essentially destroys and kills the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth structure. The infection can spread quickly, resulting in a severe toothache. At this point, root canal therapy is typically performed to alleviate the infection and restore the tooth.
Stage Five: Abscess Formation
As the infection spreads from the pulp chamber to the ends of the roots and beyond, an abscess can form in the jawbone. At this point, the infection can spread throughout the surrounding bone and compromise the health of adjacent teeth. Some patients experience swelling of the gums or the floor of the mouth, increasing your risk for serious complications. If root canal therapy alone cannot eliminate the infection, an oral surgery procedure may need to be performed to drain the infection and alleviate the pain.
Stage Six: Tooth Loss
If a decayed tooth continues to be left untreated, it will ultimately require an extraction. A missing tooth can have a significant negative impact on your overall oral health. If you must have a tooth extracted, we can help you determine a tooth replacement option that will work for you.
Schedule an Appointment Today
Tooth decay does not have to lead to tooth loss. At the first sign of a problem, schedule an appointment with Dr. Gorrell and save yourself time and money in the future. Contact us online anytime, or call our office at (650) 399-9657.
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“I moved out of the area 20 years ago and happily drive 40 miles to still see Dr. Gorrell. Best dentist ever.” Kevin B.