Tooth decay is a common condition characterized by the deterioration of the tooth caused by acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. Acid attacks the tooth’s hard surface layer, the enamel, before spreading to deeper layers. Left untreated, tooth decay worsens, leading to severe oral health complications such as an abscess.
Learn how to identify the stages of tooth decay; early detection is crucial for preventing minor dental caries from worsening.
Stage One: Demineralization
The first stage of tooth decay is referred to as demineralization. Your tooth enamel is made of hydroxyapatite (a combination of calcium, phosphate, and water molecules). When your teeth are exposed to acid produced by bacteria, the acid leaches mineral ions from your enamel, weakening the crystalline structure.
You can identify initial demineralization by small white discolored patches on the tooth.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
If left untreated, tooth decay will advance from the initial phase to the enamel decay phase. During this phase, the white patch that appeared during the initial phase will begin to darken, usually to a brownish color. This indicates more advanced mineral loss and enamel decay, which often leads to small holes called cavities forming in the enamel layer.
Cavities allow bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) to enter the tooth and increase the risk of further decay and infection.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
Dentin is a deeper layer of the tooth, located below the enamel, that protects the pulp within. Dentin is considerably softer than enamel, making it more prone to deterioration by the acids that cause tooth decay. Once decay reaches the dentin, deterioration will continue more rapidly.
Dentin also contains microscopic tubules that connect to the inner pulp layer of the tooth, which house the tooth’s nerves. When dentin is damaged due to decay, you may experience increased pain and tooth sensitivity.
Stage Four: Pulp Damage
The pulp is the innermost component of the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves. It is the most important layer of the tooth because it provides the tooth with nutrients.
When tooth decay is left untreated, it will eventually deteriorate the pulp and cause an infection. During this stage, the pulp swells and becomes irritated. Since the pulp is surrounded by harder parts of the tooth that cannot expand, pressure is exerted on the nerves when the pulp swells, resulting in severe pain.
Stage Five: Abscess
After the pulp begins to be affected by tooth decay, bacteria can infiltrate the pulp, leading to infection. This infection and continued inflammation of the pulp lead to the formation of a pocket of pus at the bottom of the tooth.
These pockets, called abscesses, lead to intense pain that can spread throughout the jaw. Inflammation can also affect the jaw, face, mouth, and lymph nodes, and a fever may develop due to the infection. When tooth decay reaches this point, extraction may be necessary as the infection can spread to the mandible or other areas of the body, causing sepsis.
Treating Tooth Decay at TruBlu Dentistry
Since tooth decay is a progressive condition, it is crucial to treat decaying teeth in the early stages. Tooth decay is often reversible if treated early with fluoride treatments or dental fillings.
If you notice cavities or experience tooth pain, call TruBlu Dentistry at (708) 424-5650 and schedule a consultation.