Stages of Tooth Decay?

There are six stages of tooth decay.

  • White Spots
  • Enamel Decay
  • Dentin Decay
  • Pulp Compromising
  • Abscess Development
  • Tooth Loss

Stage 1: White Spots

As the bacteria in your mouth produces acid, the acid attacks the enamel on your tooth.  The acid strips minerals from the hard surface of your tooth.  Plaque, or the white sticky film, builds up in spots and calcium is lost from the enamel so a chalky white spot appears on the tooth.  If you address the tooth decay at this point with a dentist, the tooth decay can be stopped and even reversed.  The dentist can use special tools to remove the plaque and then a fluoride treatment to replace the lost minerals.   You may want to talk to the dentist about your at home dental care habits and review the best ways to brush your teeth to remove plaque and prevent tartar.

Stage Two: Enamel Decay

As the bacteria continues to produce the acid, the hard exterior of the tooth, or enamel, starts to break down.  The weak spot in the enamel gives way and a cavity has started.  The dentist is not able to reverse the tooth decay at this point, but the dentist can stop the decay and damage.  When a tooth’s enamel is weakened, the tooth is also more likely to break.

Stage Three: Dentin Decay

Once the enamel has eroded, the next layer of tissue is the dentin.  This layer is closer to the tooth’s nerve endings so as the bacteria moves deeper into the tooth, there will be more pain.  You may have had occasional pain from the enamel decay, but once the dentin is affected, the pain will be more acute and intense.  A cavity may even be visible as the damage is another layer deeper.  The dentist will need to use a filling or a crown to restore the tooth and prevent further damage.

Stage Four: Pulp Compromising

After the dentin, the bacteria will reach the tooth’s core or pulp.  Pulp contains nerves and blood vessels which start to die as a result of the bacterial infection and the pulp will swell from irritation from the bacteria.  From the swollen tissue, you will have a consistent tooth ache.  In order to remove the dead tissue and bacteria, the dentist usually performs a root canal and applies a crown to protect the tooth for further damage.

Stage Five: Abscess Development

If the toothache did not get your attention, the formation of a white puss-filled lump on your gums will.  At this point, the abscess will cause more pain than any of the other stages. The infection from the abscess can move deeper into the jaw bone and it can cause your gums and tongue to swell.  The dentist may need to refer you to an oral surgeon to treat the tooth decay at this point.

Stage Six: Tooth Loss

At this point, the tooth will not be able to be repaired or restored so the tooth will need to be removed.  The dentist can make recommendations about replacement options if you are concerned about your missing tooth.

More on Tooth Decay : What Causes Tooth Decay?