Stages of Tooth Decay

young blonde woman in mouth pain​​​​​​​
  • By Courthouse Art of Dentistry
  • September 8, 2021
  • As food remains on the surface of the tooth, the mouth becomes acidic, which can lead to the formation of cavities. Tooth decay is the damage to the tooth that can lead to a dental abscess, cavities, and even tooth loss. It is caused by certain bacteria that live in plaque.


    The bacteria convert the sugar in the food into acids. A buildup of plaque can cause the acids to damage the teeth. Tooth decay progresses in different stages, becoming worse with each progression. Here are the different stages of tooth decay.




    The first stage of tooth decay is demineralization. During this stage, the enamel or outer layer of the teeth begins to weaken because of the presence of plaque. The enamel is a tough substance that is harder than human bones.


    However, the acid formed by plaque can cause demineralization and the weakening of the enamel. Demineralization is characterized by white spots on the teeth where the plaque has begun to eat away at the enamel. Using a fluoride mouthwash regularly can reverse this damage.


    Enamel Decay


    The next stage is the decay of the enamel. As the enamel continues to break down, the white spots begin to turn brown. This indicates that the second stage of the decay has begun. The deterioration of the enamel leads to the formation of cavities.


    At this stage, tooth fillings are required to prevent the cavities from getting larger. The dentist will remove the decayed tooth parts before filling the hole with ceramic, resin, gold, or silver amalgam.


    Dentin Decay


    Failure to get filling for dental cavities often results in damage to the dentin. The dentin is the layer of the tooth beneath the enamel. This layer is softer than the enamel and is more sensitive to damage from acid.


    When tooth decay gets to this third stage, the damage speeds up. Extreme tooth sensitivity when drinking cold or hot beverages is a good sign that you have reached this stage. The sensitivity will also occur when eating some foods.


    Damaged Pulp


    The pulp is the bottom part of the tooth where the fourth stage of decay occurs. The pulp holds the nerves and blood vessels that provide sensation and sustain the tooth. When tooth decay spreads to the pulp, it can cause swelling and pressure on the tooth, causing pain.


    Damage to the pulp leads to pulp death or pulp necrosis. The tooth color changes from white to grey and then black. Other signs are a bad smell, swelling around the teeth, and a bad taste in the mouth. A root canal is needed to treat the tooth.


    Formation of Abscess


    The final stage of tooth decay occurs when bacteria gets into the decaying pulp. This leads to infection. An abscess may develop at the bottom of the tooth, leading to severe pain. The pain usually spreads to the face, gums, jaw, and the rest of the mouth.


    A root canal may be performed during this stage, but in many cases, the tooth may need to be removed. Tooth removal will prevent the spread of the infection to the jawbones and bones in other parts of the head.


    Treatment for tooth decay will depend on the stage of decay. Good oral hygiene is very important for preventing tooth decay.


    For more information on caring for your teeth or to schedule an appointment, call Courthouse Art of Dentistry at our office in Arlington, Virginia at 703-940-9658 today.