Understanding the Stages of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay doesn’t just occur overnight. There are actually numerous stages, and decay will progress over time. By better understanding the stages of decay, you and your dentist can come up with the best possible treatment plan.

Stage 1 – Bacterial Growth

The main cause of decay in the teeth is bacteria. Bacteria grow in the plaque, and the most common form is the streptococcus mutans strain. If bacteria aren’t removed from the teeth, they will continue to breed and accumulate.

Step 2 – Demineralization

Cavity-causing bacteria will consume sugars, and when the sugars have been metabolized, they’ll produce acid that can dissolve the surface enamel of the teeth. This process is known as demineralization, and it usually occurs slowly. However, if your teeth are home to a significant amount of bacteria, this process will speed up.

Step 3 – First Stage Tooth Decay

This is the earliest stage in the decay process, and the teeth will begin to show a brown or white area. Typically, a white spot will only be discernible to your dentist. A shadow or area of lesser density may also be an indication of a problem.

Stage 4 – Cavity Formation

The acid will continue to penetrate the enamel, forming a cavity. This process can take several years, and once it is achieved, your tooth will no longer be able to repair itself. The decay can also travel into the dentin.

Stage 5 – Pulpitis

If intervention hasn’t occurred, the cavity will grow and extend into the pulp and the rest of the soft tissue. Infected pulp is called pulpitis, and the end result can be the death of the pulp, causing severe pain.

Step 6 – Systemic Disease and Abscess

If the infection continues to spread throughout the root of the tooth, an abscess may result. The infection can then spread to the surrounding tissues, and if it enters the blood, it can cause a system-wide infection.

Do you have additional questions about tooth decay and cavities? Contact our office for more information.