Understanding the 5 Stages of Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is a prevalent cause of tooth pain, but did you know that there are five stages in which a tooth begins to decay?

When the tooth enamel starts to break down, it creates pockets of decay on the tooth’s surface. This first stage is reversible and can be stopped from progressing if timely action is taken.

Decay happens from the acidic damage to a tooth’s structure, caused by the bacteria found in plaque. Minor forms of tooth decay can even be treated if you take care of your oral hygiene habits and regularly visit your dentist.

Here are the five stages of tooth decay:

Stage 1: Initial demineralization

The outer layers of teeth are made up of a tissue called enamel, made up of minerals. Exposure to acids made by plaque bacteria can make enamel lose minerals.

In this stage, you will see a white spot on any of your teeth, which indicates that the area is experiencing mineral loss and may be on the path to decay.

Stage 2: Enamel decay

The second stage occurs as a result of the first stage being left to continue. As enamel continues to break down, the white spot on the tooth turns to a dark brown color.

Weakened enamel results in cavities in your teeth. If these small holes are not filled by a dentist promptly, the decay process moves to the third stage.

Stage 3: Dentin decay

The tissue under the enamel is called Dentin, and is softer than enamel and more prone to damage from acids. As tooth decay reaches the Dentin, it affects the tooth’s nerves, and you start to experience pain and sensitivity as a result.

From this stage on, the decay process starts to progress faster.

Stage 4: Pulp damage

The pulp is the furthest layer of your tooth and has nerves and blood vessels that keep a tooth in good health.

When the pulp starts to get damaged, it gets irritated and swells up. The surrounding tissues are unable to handle this swelling resulting in pressure on the nerves, causing pain.

artificial teeth on a dentist’s table

Stage 5: Abscess

As a result of the pulp getting decayed, bacteria can enter and create infection and inflammation. This causes a pocket of pus to form at the base of the tooth, called an abscess.

Abscesses result in extreme pain in the jaw and gums and may cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck.

At this stage, you may need emergency dental treatment to stop the spread of infection and maybe remove the damaged tooth.

It is best to call your emergency dentist to book an appointment as soon as you see the first stage start to happen. Contact West Hills Smiles for emergency dental treatment in Calabasas or call us at (818) 346-4303 to book your appointment before you lose your tooth.