Right now, there’s a war being waged inside your mouth and you may not even be aware of it. Certain types of naturally occurring bacteria are feasting on sugars from the foods you eat, converting them into acidic waste products that eat away at your tooth enamel. While tooth enamel is a great line of defense against this constant assault, it can only hold out for so long. If you don’t brush your teeth twice per day, floss once per day, use mouthwash, and visit your dentist regularly, your tooth enamel can become eroded to the point where it can’t protect you anymore. This is known as tooth decay, and if it is left unchecked, it can result in tooth loss and other serious issues. In the interest of keeping you informed about oral health issues, the team at American Dental would like to tell you more about the 5 stages of tooth decay and give you some tips for preventing it.
Stage One: Demineralization
Although tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body, it is not invincible. Tooth enamel is mainly composed of hydroxyapatite, a calcium-infused molecule that is tough to damage. Acids, however, can strip hydroxyapatite of the calcium that makes it strong, a process known as demineralization characterized by white spots on the teeth.
Stage Two: Enamel Decay
Once your tooth enamel becomes demineralized, those white spots will start to turn brown, indicating that the enamel is decaying. In the dental profession, we call these cavities, and if they are filled in time, tooth decay can be stopped in its tracks.
Stage Three: Dentin Decay
Dentin is the softer, porous material underneath your tooth enamel. When the enamel is eroded, acids can quickly eat away at dentin. In this stage, you may notice tooth pain, especially when consuming hot or cold food, or sugary foods.
Stage Four: Pulp Damage
Once your dentin is sufficiently eroded, the tooth pulp will be exposed. This is the tissue that houses the blood vessels and nerves that keep your teeth alive. In this stage, the tooth will become painful and may even change color from white to gray or black. You may also notice swelling, as well as a bad odor or unpleasant taste in the mouth. Once the tooth pulp dies, a root canal must be performed if you hope to save your tooth.
Stage Five: Infection and Abscess
With the tooth pulp exposed, bacteria have easy access to your blood vessels. This can lead to an infection in the root pulp, which can create a pocket of pus known as an abscess. Tooth infections can also spread around the body, and can cause serious long-term consequences or even death if left untreated. Once you reach this stage, a root canal will be necessary, and the tooth may have to be removed if it is not successful.
Preventing Tooth Decay
As we mentioned earlier, maintaining a robust oral health routine is proven to prevent tooth decay by removing bacteria and plaque buildup from the mouth before it can begin eating away at the tooth enamel. This includes brushing, flossing, using mouthwash every day, and getting a dental checkup every 6 months. If you are experiencing any of the stages of tooth decay, it is crucial that you see a dentist immediately to stop it from progressing any further. By changing your oral health habits, getting fillings, or getting a root canal if necessary, you can save your teeth from being lost.
If you are looking for a dentist in Archer and Harlem, or anywhere else in the Chicago Area, American Dental has 8 locations to serve you. Give us a call at (773) 284-1645 or click “Make an Appointment” to find the Chicagoland location that works best for you.