The Five Different Stages of Tooth Decay

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Tooth decay is more involved that you might have originally thought. There are multiple stages involved, and the later stages are more challenging to treat than the earlier stages. Thankfully the team at our Palmyra restorative dentistry center is able to rebuild damaged tooth structure and restore the appearance of your smile.

Let’s take a moment to consider the five stages of tooth decay and what can be done to address each of them.

Stage One: The Initial Lesion
Before a cavity forms, there’s an initial lesion on the tooth. This often means that the tooth takes on a whitish or brownish color, which denotes demineralization at a microscopic level. The tooth structure is still intact, and the lesion does not show up as tooth decay in x-rays.

The initial lesion can be treated and further decay can be reversed. Typically the treatment involves good oral hygiene, fluoride, dental sealants, and other solutions. The idea is to prevent further progression and restore dental heath.

Stage Two: Decay of Enamel
When the lesion is allowed to progress, the tooth enamel is affected and breaks down. This is a cavity, and the decay of the enamel is visible in dental x-rays at this point. The enamel may be so damaged that the underlying dentin layer of the tooth is exposed, resulting in sensations of pain and tooth sensitivity.

To treat this stage of tooth decay, dental restorations are the most ideal option. For enamel decay, this typically means dental fillings, inlays, or onlays. These restorations rebuild the missing enamel and restore the ability to bite and chew normally.

Stage Three: Decay of Dentin
When the tooth decay spreads beyond the enamel layer, it can affect the dentin of a tooth. Dentin is a porous substance beneath the tooth enamel. When dentin is affected by tooth decay, the decay can spread rapidly. With dentin decay, pronounced tooth sensitivity and discomfort is quite common.

The ideal treatment option for these levels of decay involves the use of inlays, onlays, and dental crowns. Again, the goal is to rebuild damaged structure and restore the ability to bite and chew.

Stage Four: Infection of the Dental Pulp
Inside of every tooth is a chamber filled with soft tissue known as dental pulp. This dental pulp is comprised of nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue that aided in the initial formation of a tooth. When bacteria breaches the dentin and reaches the pulp chamber, it can be very painful. This is known as a root canal infection.

Treating this stage of tooth decay means root canal therapy, which removes the pulp within the tooth, sterilizes the pulp chamber, and fills the chamber with an inert material. A crown is then used to cap the treated tooth.

Stage Five: Formation of an Abscess
It’s possible for the infection of the dental pulp to spread to other parts of the mouth, such as the surrounding gum tissue and the jawbone. Inflammation and swelling can occur at this stage of tooth decay, requiring advanced dental treatment.

At this stage of tooth decay, it may be necessary to extract the tooth. Additional therapies will be required to bring the infection under control and to restore the damaged structures that have been affected.

Learn More About Treating and Preventing Cavities
If you would like more information about treating and preventing tooth decay, be sure to contact our cosmetic and restorative dentistry center today. Our team is here to help you smile with renewed confidence.