Tooth decay results from bacteria that live in plaque, causing damage to your teeth, which leads to cavities, abscesses, and tooth loss.
This bacterium can transform sugars in food into acids. If left to build up, this acid starts to cause havoc on your teeth.
Practicing good oral hygiene will help prevent tooth decay and keep your teeth healthy. There are multiple stages of tooth decay, and we will discuss them in detail below.
Five Different Stages of Tooth Decay
Dental plaque is one of the most significant factors when it comes to tooth decay. It is a colorless, sticky film that envelopes the surface of your teeth.
It consists of bacteria, food, and saliva.
If you don’t practice good oral hygiene, this plaque builds up and can even harden over time. This forms tartar which protects the bacteria, thus making it harder to get rid of.
Tooth decay is made up of five different stages:
Enamel is the outer layer of your teeth and is a tissue mostly made up of minerals. Acids from plaque bacteria eat away at your enamel, making it lose all its minerals.
You know this is happening when you start to see white spots on your teeth. This indicates an area of mineral loss which is your first sign of tooth decay.
- Enamel Decay
If you missed this first sign and the tooth decay has been left to flourish, your enamel will continue to break down. The sign to look out for is those white spots starting to darken to brown.
Once the decay has weakened the enamel, tiny holes will start to develop called cavities. Your dentist will be able to fill these holes for you.
- Dentin Decay
The tissue found under the enamel is called dentin. It’s suppler than enamel which makes it more sensitive to acid. Because this tissue is not as strong as enamel, the decay spreads at a much more rapid rate.
There are tubes in the dentin that lead straight to the tooth’s nerves. Therefore, when your dentin is affected by decay, you will experience sensitivity in the tooth, especially when consuming hot or cold drinks and foods.
- Damage to your pulp
The inner layer of your teeth is composed of pulp. This pulp contains all the nerves and blood vessels that aid in keeping your teeth strong and healthy. These nerves also supply sensation to the teeth.
If the pulp is attacked by decay, it will start to become inflamed and swell. Because the tooth is not flexible, pressure is put on your pulp by the swelling, which causes pain (toothache).
If tooth decay is left to damage your pulp, the bacteria can cause a major infection.
This can lead to pus developing under your tooth, which is called an abscess.
You will experience much pain that will spread to your jaw. Other indications can include swelling of the gum tissue and lymph nodes, face, and a fever.
If you have an abscess, you must seek out treatment as infection could spread into the bones of your head and neck. If the infection is severe, your tooth may have to be removed.
Treatment for the Different Stages of Tooth Decay
The treatment you would need will vary depending on the stage of the decay and will include:
This is the most straightforward stage to treat, and it is vital to get rid of decay before more permanent damage is caused. The recommended treatment is fluoride, and it can be applied to your dental practice.
The fluoride applied comes in two forms, gel or varnish. It will build up your enamel and make it less susceptible to acid created from plaque bacteria. You might notice that your toothpaste also contains fluoride, and it can be found in tap water.
This is the stage where cavities are formed, and you can treat this with a filling.
You get different fillings, and you should discuss which type will suit your needs with your dentist.
During the filling procedure, your dentist will use a tool to eradicate the areas with decay. Next, your dentist will fill the tiny hole with your material of choice and then buffer over the area for a smooth finish.
If dentin decay is picked up early, you might only need a filling, but if not, you will more than likely have to have a crown placed if the stage is severe.
Crowns cover the whole tooth up to the gums. The decay will be removed, and the crown placed. Sometimes you will have to wait for your crown to be custom-made in a lab and have it placed in a second appointment.
One disadvantage to this is that some of your healthy enamel might have to be shaved away for your crown to fit into place.
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Damage to Your Pulp
It is essential to take care of any tooth decay before reaching the pulp as the treatment is complex. Usually, a root canal is the best treatment for damaged pulp.
This entails removing the damaged pulp and cleaning out the cavity. A crown is placed afterward to strengthen the tooth.
Abscesses are usually treated with a root canal where the infection will be removed. Your dentist will then seal up the tooth. I
f your infection is severe, your tooth may need to be extracted. Before a root canal is recommended, your dentist might prescribe you a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
How to Avoid Tooth Decay
The best way to avoid decay is by practicing good oral hygiene. Here are a few methods you can apply which will eventually become second nature:
- Brush your teeth
Ensure that you are brushing two times a day (bonus for after meals) and flossing once a day. In addition, change your toothpaste to a brand that contains fluoride.
- Go for regular check-ups.
You should consult with your dentist once every six months for a check-up. A dentist will pick up if you have any decay and treat it before it gets worse.
- Tap water is a must.
Tap water in the USA contains fluoride, which strengthens your enamel and protects your teeth from decay.
- Try not to snack and limit your sugar intake.
By consuming much sugar, you give the plaque bacteria more ammunition to turn into acid. Try to avoid foods like candy, cookies, soda, cake, and even some breakfast cereals.
- Inquire about sealants
Sealants are a fine layer of plastic that is placed on the top of your back molars. As you use your molars to chew, many food particles can get stuck in them. This sealant prevents that from happening.
Tooth Decay in Children
Unfortunately, children can also experience tooth decay. Children are more susceptible to decay than adults. This is because their enamel is not fully developed and much thinner than adults.
You must reduce the amount of sugar your children are consuming and make sure that they are brushing their teeth two times a day for at least two minutes at a time.
You might think it’s not a big deal as they will eventually lose their milk teeth, but this is not true. You need to keep their teeth healthy as they act as placeholders for their permanent teeth, and if they are lost prematurely, their adult teeth may be misaligned.
Risks from tooth decay can affect everyone, and it won’t go away if you ignore it.
Below are some factors to take into consideration when it comes to the health of your teeth:
- The location of the teeth
It is most common for your premolars and molars to be affected by decay. This is because many curves and crevices where food particles can be trapped make them harder to clean.
- Eating particular food and drinks.
Stay away from foods that get stuck to your teeth and are hard to remove. This can include milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, soda, dried fruit, cake, candy, cereal, and chips. These are the most well-known foods that cause decay.
- Feeding your baby before bed
It is natural to want to give your baby a nice bottle of milk, formula, juice, or any other beverage containing sugar before they dose off.
The bad news is that these liquids seep into their teeth for hours while they slumber, which feeds the plaque bacteria.
- Bad oral hygiene practices
By not brushing your teeth regularly, plaque will build up quickly and race through all the stages until, eventually, you will need to have the tooth removed.
- Minimal fluoride exposure
Fluoride is beneficial to your teeth and can even reverse the early stages of tooth damage, so much so that it is added to many public water supplies. You can also find it in numerous kinds of toothpaste and rinses.
Tooth decay is most common in younger people like children and teenagers. However, you are also more at risk when you are older as your enamel has broken down through the years. Geriatrics may also need to take medication that reduces the flow of saliva (dry mouth), which enhances the risk of decay.
- Dry mouth
When the flow of saliva is reduced, it is called dry mouth.
Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by cleaning away any food particles and plaque from your teeth.
There is also a type of natural medication in your saliva that fights the acid produced by bacteria. Dry mouth can occur when you take certain medications, have specific medical conditions, are exposed to radiation of the upper body, and other chemotherapy drugs.
- Deteriorating fillings or dental devices
Through many years of use, fillings and other dental devices start to weaken, break or develop rough patches.
The plaque will take advantage of this and build up more quickly, making it tougher to remove. Your dental devices that stop fitting correctly can also allow decay to flourish underneath them.
Heartburn can allow stomach acid to flow up to your mouth (reflux), which will start to tear down the enamel of your teeth, causing severe damage. In addition, dentin is exposed and can be attacked by the bacteria creating decay.
- Constant vomiting (eating disorders)
By vomiting frequently, stomach acid fills your mouth and begins to dissolve your enamel, and can also affect your saliva production.
Complications caused by Tooth Decay and Cavities
Because nearly everyone gets cavities, people do not take them seriously. This is especially true in kids as their parents think that all will be resolved once their milk teeth fall out. However, some severe, lasting complications are caused by decay, even if it is present in milk teeth.
These complications include:
- Tooth Abscess
- Swelling or pus around the tooth
- Damage or broken teeth
- Chewing issues
- Misaligned teeth after an extraction
If the decay is ignored and becomes severe, you may have:
- Consistent pain
- Weight loss or lack of nourishment from not being able to eat or chew
- Tooth loss, which could give you confidence issues and problems with your self-esteem
- Abscesses could cause more severe infections and, in sporadic cases, tumors.
Bacteria is caused by tooth decay in plaque that creates acid out of sugar. This eats through your enamel, causing an array of dental complications.
Decay happens in five different stages and, if treated early, can be removed easily without further damage to your tooth.
As there are different stages, there are various treatments for each stage. These treatments can include fillings, root canals, and sometimes even tooth extraction.
There are ways of preventing decay, like practicing good oral hygiene and going for regular dental check-ups. Also, try to limit your sugar intake to avoid the plaque bacteria from turning it into acid.