What Are the Stages of Tooth Decay?

Jun 14, 2017 @ 01:55 PM — by Neil L. Starr, DDS

The different stages of tooth decayPatients who visit our Washington, DC dental care practice know that we offer advanced restorative dentistry treatments and state-of-the-art cosmetic dentistry procedures. While these professional treatments are important, a patient's at-home oral hygiene can work wonders for lasting dental health.

With this in mind, we want to consider the different stages of tooth decay. Early treatment and detection is always best. Knowing the consequences of untreated tooth decay underlines the importance of regular brushing, flossing, and dental visits.

Stage One: The Initial Lesion

The initial formation of a cavity involves a lesion forming on the surface of a tooth. While the white or brown discoloration does not show up as tooth decay on an x-ray, it is the first sign of demineralization.

Thankfully at this stage, the damage caused by the cavity can be reversed. Dentists may recommend fluoride treatments or dental sealants, or may ask patients to improve their oral hygiene practices.

Stage Two: Enamel Decay

If the initial lesion is not addressed, the tooth enamel (the surface layer of the tooth) begins to breakdown. As more enamel is affected, this can lead to tooth sensitivity since the underlying structures of the tooth become more exposed.

Enamel decay is most often treated with a traditional dental filling. This helps replace the tooth structure that has been compromised by tooth decay. More serious enamel decay may be addressed with an inlay or onlay if needed, both of which function much like a filling but are able to replace more of the tooth structure.

Stage Three: Dentin Decay

Beneath the tooth enamel is a porous substance known as dentin. The pores in this dentin are referred to as dentinal tubules. Since the dentin is exposed and is porous, tooth sensitivity can be very severe, and the tooth decay can spread and progress rapidly.

When treating dentin decay, it's common for dentists to use inlays, onlays, or dental crowns. The goal is to get the spread of the decay under control, protect the structure of the teeth from harm, and restore a person's ability to bite and chew.

Stage Four: Dental Pulp Infection

Inside of every tooth is a chamber filled with soft tissue known as dental pulp. Comprised of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue, this dental pulp was essential for the initial formation of a tooth. When oral bacteria reaches the dental pulp, a painful root canal infection can occur.

To treat pulp infection, dentists must perform root canal therapy. This involves the removal of the infected dental pulp, the cleaning and sterilization of the pulp chamber, filling of the pulp chamber, and the capping of the tooth with a dental crown.

Stage Five: Formation of an Abscess

When the infected dental pulp is not treated in time, an abscess may form. An abscess is a formation of pus that collects in the soft tissue as the body tries to fight off an infection. The infection from the tooth may spread further without timely treatment, leading to major wellness issues.

If an oral abscess forms, it's important that it be carefully drained by a medical or dental professional. Antibiotics are often prescribed to help with treatment. Dentists will also need to consider various restorative procedures to address the damage done to adjacent structures in the mouth.

Learn More About Tooth Decay

For more information about treating and preventing tooth decay and how our team can help yous smile with renewed confidence, 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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