Commonly known as cavities or caries, tooth decay is damage to a tooth as a result of bacterial activity. The destruction of the tooth structure occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce acids which lead to demineralization. Poor oral hygiene habits and the consumption of sugary or starchy foods and beverages can increase a person’s risk of developing cavities. As tooth decay progresses, symptoms like tooth pain, sensitivity, staining, and infections may occur.
Dental cavities do not form overnight. In fact, it takes an average of six months to several years before a cavity will require treatment. Tooth decay goes through many stages before treatment is recommended.
Stage 1: Development of White Spots
One of the first signs of tooth decay is the formation of small, white spots on the teeth. These white spots are representative of demineralization caused by the frequent attack of acids and sugars on the teeth. The bright white spots form under the surface of the enamel and can be difficult to see on teeth further back in the mouth. At this stage of tooth decay, a filling is not usually needed. Instead, your Clermont dentist will usually recommend more stringent dental hygiene habits to stop the erosion. The use of fluoride products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash, can help remineralize the lost enamel.
Stage 2: Breakdown of Enamel
During the second stage of tooth decay progression, the enamel beneath the tooth’s surface starts to break down. Once the decay has moved past the point of natural remineralization, the proper minerals cannot be restored due to the formation of a lesion within the tooth. Over time, the decay will start to move towards the outer surface of the tooth, eventually breaking through the surface of the enamel. When this occurs, the cavity will need to be filled. The breakdown of enamel is usually evident by dark spots on the teeth. However, cavities cannot always be seen on the outside of the tooth.
Stage 3: Progression of Decay into Dentin
After reaching the third stage of the tooth decay process, patients often start to feel some discomfort. Dentin is the hard, porous layer of tissue located directly beneath the enamel. It represents the largest portion of the tooth and plays a critical role in maintaining its structural integrity. If tooth decay is left untreated, acids and bacteria will continue to dissolve the enamel and eventually reach the dentin. A filling may be used to repair the tooth at this stage.
Stage 4: Infection of the Pulp
The pulp is the center of the tooth and is composed majorly of soft connective tissue and lymphatic, vascular, and nervous elements. The pulp of a tooth is responsible for several roles, including the formation of dentin. If the pulp becomes infected due to untreated tooth decay, severe dental pain can occur. Due to the extent of the decay, a filling is usually not a sufficient treatment. Instead, the infected tooth will likely need to undergo a root canal to remove the infected tissue.
Stage 5: Formation of an Abscess
The final stage of cavity development involves the formation of an abscess on the affected tooth. This is the most painful stage as the infection has reached the root tip of the tooth. When an abscess forms, the gums and tongue often swell which can impact a person’s ability to talk and eat comfortably. The infection can also spread to the bones causing more extensive damage. A root canal or extraction is often needed at this stage. In more severe cases, oral surgery may be performed. If an abscess is left untreated, it can cause the infection to spread and could actually prove fatal.
Speak with a Dentist in Clermont, FL
Although cavities can wreak havoc on a person’s health, they are usually 100 percent preventable. It is important to follow a strict oral hygiene regimen that involves the use of fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. An electric toothbrush can help remove plaque and bacteria easier than a manual brush. It is also important to avoid a diet high in sugar and to drink plenty of water daily. For more information about cavity development, or to consult with a dentist in Clermont, contact the friendly dental team at Hancock Village Dental.