What Stage of Tooth Decay Am I In?

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay progresses along a fairly predictable path. It starts off slow, then seems to happen all at once. Understanding the process of tooth decay – and the stage you’re currently in – will give you a good idea of what to expect at your next dental appointment.

Stage 1: Enamel Decay

Dental enamel is a strong outer layer of the tooth composed of various minerals. It’s stronger than bone, making it the strongest material in the body. That said, it still isn’t immune to the onslaught of plaque, which is made up mainly of acid and bacteria.

As plaque sits on the teeth, it begins to wear down the enamel. This appears as little grey or white spots on the tooth. Many people see these and believe they are cavities, but this isn’t the case.

Enamel decay can be stopped and to some extent reversed with improved dental hygiene and diet. However, if left to progress, dental decay will inevitably progress onto the next phase.

Stage 2: Dentin Decay

The second layer of the tooth is called the dentin. This makes up the majority of the tooth. It’s the hard, “bony” section of the tooth and is made up of cartilage, among other things.

When plaque has worn its way past the dentin it begins working on the enamel. Once a hole is worn away in the enamel, you officially have a cavity.

This is where things tend to get really painful.

Unfortunately, there are no natural means of curing a cavity, and you’ll need a dental filling from your dentist. This should be done as soon as possible. If you thought a cavity was painful, just wait until you reach the third stage of tooth decay.

Stage 3: Pulpitis

As a cavity becomes more and more infested, plaque eventually reaches its way into the tooth pulp. As the name implies, this is the soft, “pulpy” area of the tooth. It’s made up of tissue, blood vessels, and contains the tooth nerve.

Once the tooth pulp becomes infected, it becomes inflamed and begins to swell. However, the swelling is suppressed by the surrounding dentin, thus applying force down on the tooth nerve and cutting off the tooth’s blood supply. It’s here that the tooth begins to die.

At this stage, the most common dental procedure is a root canal. Fortunately, root canals don’t have to be the nightmare they once were – there are many ways dentists can provide a relatively painless root canal.

Stage 4: Abscess

Once the pulp is infected, it’s only a matter of time before an abscess forms. An abscess is an inflamed pocket of pus that forms near the tooth nerve, usually at the gumline. A dental abscess usually resembles a pimple.

At this stage, your dentist can perform a root canal as a means of draining the abscess. Depending on the severity of the infection, a dental extraction may be in order.

No matter what stage of tooth decay you are in, your dentist can help. Contact them immediately – the sooner you get your teeth worked on, the sooner they can eliminate your pain.


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