Although there are several common causes of tooth decay, the process of how tooth decay progress’s to more severe forms is more or less the same regardless of the cause. As acids build up on the surface of teeth it slowly eats away at each layer, eventually causing a lot of pain and discomfort in the effected tooth if not treated promptly.
In it’s early stages, tooth decay is very difficult to self diagnose. It isn’t until a later stage of tooth decay where the acids form a cavity passing through the dentin layer of a tooth that the noticeable symptoms of tooth decay begin to occur. Anyone who suspects they are suffering from tooth decay should visit a dentist right away to get the problem resolved before it becomes a much more severe issue.
Here we will explain the different stages of tooth decay, going into detail of the damage being caused to the effected teeth and how it will effect you. We will also explain what can happen if you allow if to progress to later stages, which may eventually require a visit to an emergency dental clinic in the case of an abscess formation.
This is really a preliminary requirement for tooth decay to occur. Without the build-up of plaque in your mouth, there won’t be any bacteria that interacts with sugars in your diet to create the acids necessary for tooth decay to occur.
Since plaque is a sticky substance, made even stickier by diets high in sugars and starches, the acids end up sticking to your teeth, giving them time to eat away at the tooth structure. Plaque usually accumulates in hard to reach areas of your mouth such as in between teeth, next to the gum line and in the crevices on top of molars.
If this plaque is not properly cleaned away it will become hard, forming tartar which is a great place for bacteria to hide, giving it even more time to eat away at the tooth enamel.
Early Stage Tooth Decay
As plaque accumulates in your mouth forming tooth decaying acids after every meal, a process known as demineralization occurs. During this process, tooth enamel begins to deteriorate slowly but can be replenished, or re-mineralized, with your saliva.
If, however, the bacteria build-up is too large and demineralization occurs faster than your body can replenish the minerals necessary to strengthen your tooth enamel, the early stage of tooth decay will take place. During this stage, there will only be subtle visual signs of decay such as a white or brown spot on the tooth, which can take several months to occur. If it is caught in this early stage the tooth can easily repair itself with the right action, but if it goes on any further it may require an advanced dental procedure like a filling.
As the bacteria slowly eats away at your tooth enamel, usually over several years, a hole known as a cavity will be created. This hole can be completely unnoticeable at first due to it’s tiny size or position in your mouth. Most people will begin noticing a cavity once it completely passes through the tooth enamel, penetrating the middle dentin layer of your tooth because at this point there will most likely be some level of discomfort on that tooth.
Once a cavity eats through the enamel and starts penetrating the dentin, your body will not be able to replenish the tooth through mineralization. At this point a visit to the dentist is absolutely necessary to seal the cavity with a filling.
If quick action is not taken, more bacteria will build-up inside the cavity eating through the layer of dentin. Since dentin is softer than enamel, this process will occur much faster than it did when passing through the enamel, eventually making its way to the tooth pulp.
Decay In Tooth Pulp
Allowing the cavity to persist will turn a moderate tooth decay problem into a severe one. After the bacteria eats through the layer of dentin in your tooth, it will begin penetrating into the tooth pulp. Pulp is not made of minerals like enamel and dentin, instead it is comprised of nerves and soft tissues.
When a cavity progresses to this stage and bacteria enters the pulp, you are almost sure to suffer an infection in the pulp called pulpitis. At this stage, the infected pulp tissue begins to swell but since it is contained by harder dentin and enamel layers it does not expand. Instead, the inflamed pulp tissue literally squeezes the blood vessels inside the tooth cutting off it’s blood supply. At this point the tooth is considered to be dead and will cause a lot of pain to the effected tooth.
Hopefully anyone suffering from tooth decay fixes the problem in it’s early stages, or in a worst case scenario, visits an emergency dentist once they start feeling the extreme pain felt from pulpitis. Anyone who doesn’t may be exposing the tooth root to even greater damage.
A pulpitis infection can continue spreading to the tooth root, creating a pimple like infection in the gum called an abscess. This is a very serious infection that requires emergency dental assistance to be fixed right away. If it is not taken care of in a timely manner the infection can eventually enter the blood stream causing a life threatening situation.