The Stages of Tooth Decay: Information for Patients
By Dr. Kaffey on November 30, 2017
Cavities are one of the most common dental problems we see each day at our Lansdale restorative dentistry center. We have plenty of options for treating cavities and improving the dental health of our patients, whether the cavity is minor or is advanced.
We'd like to consider the different stages of tooth decay and what can be done to address these problems as they arise. This should help patients understand the importance of good oral hygiene and regular dental visits.
Stage One: The Initial Lesion
Before a cavity begins to form, there are the initial warning signs to consider. This is known as an initial lesion. It will usually take the form of white or brown discoloration on the teeth, though it will not show up as tooth decay in x-rays.
At this early stage of tooth decay, the initial lesion can be revered and a full cavity avoided. Dentists may recommend cleanings, fluoride treatments, and dental sealants to address this issue. Patients will also be asked to brush and floss regularly, improve their eating habits, and be more attentive about preventative care.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
The next stage of tooth decay is when a cavity actually forms and progresses. At this second stage, the enamel (the topmost layer of a tooth) has become damaged. The extent of the enamel damage can vary. Left untreated, the enamel may be so decayed that it exposes the underlying dentin layer of the tooth.
To address enamel decay, dentists can use a variety of dental restorations, such as fillings, inlays, onlays, and crowns. These restorations rebuild the missing tooth enamel and prevent the progression of the cavity in the process. Tooth-colored or metal fillings can be used depending on the needs of the patient and the discretion of the dentist.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
At this next stage of tooth decay, the dentin of the tooth is damaged. The dentin is not as durable as enamel, and it is also porous. This means that the tooth decay can progress and spread faster along the dentin than it the enamel. Tooth sensitivity and tooth discoloration tend to be the telltale signs of this stage of tooth decay.
Dentists will typically use dental restorations to address this stage of tooth decay. Traditional fillings won't be enough, so inlays, onlays, and dental crowns tend to be the best options.
Stage Four: Root Canal Infection
Inside of every tooth is a bundle of dental pulp, which is soft tissue comprised of blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue. When bacteria reaches this dental pulp, it can cause inflammation, a condition known as a root canal infection. These can be quite painful, and they must be treated as soon as possible to prevent spread of infection.
To treat root canal infections, dentists can perform endodontic therapy. This involves the removal of the disease dental pulp and the capping of the tooth to prevent further damage. If a tooth is so decay that endodontic therapy is no longer an option, a dentist may have no choice but to extract the infected tooth.
Stage Five: Formation of an Oral Abscess
By this advanced stage of tooth decay, the issues have spread beyond the tooth itself. An oral abscess is an accumulation of pus that forms on the soft tissue of the mouth. Severe infections can lead to the formation of an abscess, which needs to be dealt with carefully to avoid serious medical conditions.
When treating an oral abscess, dentists must carefully drain the pus first. Antibiotics and antiseptic medications are then used to help control any potential bacteria and prevent further infection.
Learn More About Tooth Decay
If you would like more information about treating tooth decay and enhancing your smile, we encourage you to contact an experienced cosmetic and restorative dentist. The team at Leading Dental Solutions will work diligently to rebuild damaged tooth structure and make your smile look its very best.
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