It’s almost Halloween, which means lots of candy consumption for children and adults alike (because really, who can resist the extra treats lying around?). This time of year when we are surrounded by sugar it’s natural to think about the health of our teeth and the possibility for decay. Did you know there are five distinct stages of tooth decay? And, that in the first stage of decay, you can actually take steps to reverse the progression of the disease? Indeed, it’s true. In the first stage of decay, whether you’re a child or an adult, the application of fluoride via fluoride treatments, your toothpaste, and even the local water supply can stop a cavity from penetrating through the enamel and reaching its second stage. Even the saliva in your mouth and the foods you eat help to re-mineralize a tooth in jeopardy. But that’s just the first stage! What about the rest? Understanding how a cavity progresses can assist you in preventing each successive stage from occurring.
Stage One: White Spots
In stage one, the tooth begins to show signs of strain from the attack of sugars and acids, and white spots will begin to materialize just below the surface of the enamel. These white spots are representative of the demineralization of the tooth and can be easy to miss because they’re likely to occur on your molars. A dental exam, of course, is designed to catch such cavities! As mentioned previously, at this stage, the cavity can be repaired without the need to excavate the tooth. This is why routine dental exams are not just recommended, they are necessary! Catching tooth decay at its earliest stage can save you discomfort and cost.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
Stage two marks the beginning of the end for the surface enamel that is being attacked. Initially, the tooth erodes from the underside outward, so the outer enamel will still be intact for the first half of this second stage. Once the cavity breaks through the surface of the enamel, there is no turning back, and you will need to have the cavity corrected with a filling.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
If a cavity in your mouth were to progress beyond stage two without you knowing, you’d tend become aware of it when it started to hit stage three because it would probably start to cause some pain. At this level, the cavity begins to eat away at the second level of tooth material that lies beneath the enamel: the dentin. A filling can still be used to stop the onslaught of bacteria assaulting the tooth in order to prevent the cavity from reaching the tooth’s most critical component: the pulp.
Stage Four: Involvement of The Pulp
Once the cavity reaches the pulp, it’s going to hurt. A lot. So if you’ve unfortunately missed all the signs to this point, discomfort will certainly let you know there is a big problem. Stage four is serious, and a root canal is the only option of treatment at this stage, save for a complete extraction. Should you find yourself at this stage, we partner with an Endodontist to bring you back to dental health.
Stage Five: Abscess Formation
In the fifth and final stage of decay, the infection has reached the tip of the root and exited the tip of the tooth’s structure. This in turn infects the surrounding tissues and possibly the bone structure. Swelling would be commonplace and pain severe. An abscess can be fatal if not dealt with immediately. Root canal or extraction would be the order of the day should decay reach this stage.
As you can see cavities don’t happen overnight. In the early stages, regular visits can stall and reverse the progression of the disease, so it really does pay in the long-run to visit the dentist at pre-selected intervals. Are you due for a check-up? Give us a call at 865-982-7602 and we will be happy to schedule you!