Tooth decay is 1 of the most common oral health problems. It can quickly go from a minor inconvenience to a major problem. Luckily, it is possible to stop the growth of tooth decay with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. 

However, most people don’t realize they are experiencing symptoms of tooth decay until it is too late. When tooth decay is left untreated for too long it can lead to cavities, severe mouth pain, and tooth loss. This is why it is so important to learn the stages of tooth decay so that you can identify when to start treatment and be prepared to stop it.

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about tooth decay and how to identify each stage of it in your mouth.

What Is Tooth Decay

Tooth decay happens when your teeth are exposed to certain types of bacteria which develop into plaque on your teeth. When you eat foods that contain sugar or carbohydrates, these bacteria change those sugars into acids which over time will wear down your teeth and destroy your tooth enamel. 

Everyone is susceptible to tooth decay, but if you eat a lot of high sugar foods, or drink a lot of high sugar beverages then you are putting yourself at a higher risk of developing tooth decay. Thankfully, tooth decay is relatively easy to ward off and stop by taking a good oral hygiene routine and taking care of your teeth. 

The Stages Of Tooth Decay

There are 5 stages of tooth decay. As tooth decay grows, it also becomes increasingly difficult to treat, needing more invasive procedures in the later stages.

All stages of tooth decay can be treated but if you are able to stop it in its early stages then you will be a lot more comfortable and could avoid extra visits to your dentist.

Stage 1: The Spot

The first stage of tooth decay is a small spot on your teeth. In most cases, it can even be too small for you to notice. This spot can be a discolored white or yellow, which makes it even harder to notice at first glance. However, your dentist will see this spot right away, which is why you shouldn’t skimp on your dental visits. 

These spots are caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies from a buildup of plaque. Thankfully these spots can be removed easily and the effects of tooth decay can be reversed quickly. All you need to do is brush and floss your teeth at least 2 times a day and make sure that you brush all areas of your teeth. 

Stage 2: Decay Starts To Grow

If you don’t see the spot and don’t brush your teeth regularly, the next stage of tooth decay is when your teeth truly start to decay. Starting from the spot, the enamel on your teeth will begin to break down and the spot’s color will change and turn dark. It will usually turn a shade of brown at this stage, making it much more noticeable.

This is a dental cavity and it can’t be reversed on your own and requires help from your dentist. Your dentist can drill and fill the cavity and in most cases, you won’t feel any pain. However, if you have several cavities, the procedure will take much longer and may cause tooth sensitivity after treatment. This is why it is best to take care of your teeth so the tooth decay doesn’t reach this stage.

Stage 3: Decay Continues To Grow

Below the layer of enamel on your teeth is called the dentin. While the enamel is a hard layer that protects your teeth, the dentin is a soft layer and is very sensitive. As your tooth enamel wears off due to tooth decay, more dentin is exposed and this comes with increasing sensitivity and potential damage from acids. Because of how soft dentin is, tooth decay can quickly grow and cause major damage. 

The dentin in your teeth is also connected directly to your nerves. Once tooth decay hits its 3rd stage then you may feel some pain as a result of the 3rd stage of tooth decay. At this stage, teeth become much more sensitive very quickly. Eating hot or cold foods can cause severe pain at this stage. 

To treat tooth decay at this stage your dentist may recommend a larger filling or a dental crown to repair your teeth.

Stage 4: Extreme Decay

Below the dentin is the pulp of your tooth. This is the deepest layer of each tooth and is where the nerves are located that bring blood flow to your teeth. At this stage, you are far more likely to feel extreme pain. When acid reaches the layer of pulp, it will swell and cause extreme tooth sensitivity and difficulty chewing foods.

For your dentist to treat this stage of tooth decay, they will have to perform a root canal. This procedure is very invasive and your dentist will drain the tooth of all fluids and remove the decaying tissue from your tooth. The next step is for your dentist to fill the tooth with a filler instead to replace the damaged tissue.

Stage 5: Abscesses

If you don’t address your tooth decay by stage 4, then your teeth will reach the final stage of tooth decay. Stage 5 is by far the most painful stage of tooth decay and at this point, your entire mouth can be infected. This infection can spread to your gums, tongue, and jaw.

Abscesses are the result of tooth decay and require urgent professional dental help to treat. You will need to undergo surgery to stop the spread of infection and in many cases even have the tooth extracted. Stage 5 tooth decay is very serious and you should never let your teeth decay to this stage.

How To Fight Tooth Decay With Good Oral Hygiene

Now that you know the 5 stages of tooth decay, you know how to identify them at each stage and how quickly tooth decay can grow and become an increasingly important problem to deal with. However, it is possible to prevent tooth decay by practicing good oral hygiene to stop it before it grows. If you find the spot that signifies the first stage of tooth decay you have a much higher chance of saving your teeth and reversing the damaging effects of tooth decay right away.

While brushing your teeth, it is important that you brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day to prevent tooth decay. Now that you know how tooth decay grows, you’ll be glad that you can stop it in its early stages.

To learn more about tooth decay and oral health check out the rest of our dental blog.