The Five Stages of Tooth Decay
By Stephen Rogers on June 06, 2017
Cavities are a common dental health problem, and yet many people misunderstand what they are and how they develop. For instance, cavities don't form all at once. There are different stages involved in their development and progression. No matters what stage of tooth decay a patient suffers from, the team at our Long Island restorative dentistry center can use advanced treatments to treat the affected tooth or teeth.
Let's take a moment to consider the five different stages of tooth decay. We'll also take time to consider the different treatment options for the various stages of progression.
The First Stage: The Initial Lesion
Before a cavity is fully developed, it begins as an initial lesion on the topmost layer of the tooth. At this stage the cavity per se isn't even visible on dental x-rays. Its initial sign of development is discoloration of the tooth structure, typically white or brown. The change in color means that demineralization of the tooth has occurred at a microscopic level.
During this first stage of tooth decay, the progress of the cavity can be halted and even reversed. Dentists may consider fluoride treatments, dental sealants, and careful cleanings during a visit. This is supplemented by diligent brushing and flossing on the part of the patient.
The Second Stage: Enamel Decay
As the tooth decay progresses, the enamel layer of the tooth is eventually worn down. Tooth enamel is one of the strongest substances in the entire body, and yet oral bacteria and acidity can eat away at it. As this stage of tooth decay, the demineralization becomes visible on x-rays.
To treat enamel decay, the most common treatment is the use of a dental fillings. These traditional restorations are used to replace the compromised tooth structure, allowing people to bite and chew normally again. Dental fillings come in tooth-colored and metal form, with the ideal material determined by the tooth being treated and the extent of the tooth decay.
The Third Stage: Dentin Decay
Beneath the tooth enamel is a substance known as dentin. This is a durable though porous material. Because it is porous, tooth decay can spread and progress faster through the dentin than it affects tooth enamel. Exposure of the dentin of a tooth typically causes tooth sensitivity, especially to hot or cold temperatures.
To treat dentin decay, the ideal option for treatment typically involves more substantial dental restorations, such as inlays, onlays, or dental crowns. Like dental fillings, these restorations come in metal and tooth-colored forms. The ideal material is determined by the tooth and the discretion of the dentist.
The Fourth Stage: Infection of Dental Pulp
Inside each tooth is a chamber full of soft tissue known as dental pulp. The dental pulp is comprised of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue essential for the initial development and maturation of the tooth. If bacteria reaches the dental pulp via the pores in the dentin, it can lead to a painful infection of this soft tissue; this is known as a root canal infection.
When dental pulp gets infected, the ideal treatment option is endodontic therapy, which is colloquially known as a root canal. The process involves removal of the infected dental pulp, filling the pulp chamber with an inert material, and capping the treated tooth with a crown.
The Fifth Stage: Abscess Formation
When a root canal infection is left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the mouth. This means potential infection of the gum tissue and even the jawbone. Severe inflammation and pain are often experienced when decay reaches this stage.
Tooth extraction tends to be the best treatment option at this stage of tooth decay. This is followed by treatments for the infected tissues in the mouth.
Learn More About Treating Cavities
To learn more about treating and preventing cavities, be sure to contact our cosmetic and restorative dentistry center today. We look forward to your visit and discussing these matters in much greater detail.
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