Varying Levels of Tooth Decay and How To Treat Each
Picture this: You notice white spots on your teeth or a little hole on your left lower premolar and wonder if you need a filling. A quick Google search for “treatments for cavities” introduces you to a whole host of other treatment options you didn’t even know existed. Now you’re confused and not sure which procedure is right for you. Well, you’re in luck. This article covers the different stages of tooth decay and the treatment options for each.
Stage 1: Initial Demineralization
The first stage of tooth decay is demineralization, or the appearance of small white spots on the surface of your enamel. This happens because of a buildup of plaque, which produces acids that erode the enamel and strip it of vital minerals like calcium. So if one day you notice these lesions, don’t mistake them for healthy enamel. The lesions may be white, but they’re an early warning sign of tooth decay.
How To Treat
Plaque damage is still reversible at this stage with proper treatment, such as fluoride treatments, brushing technique adjustments, or fluoridated mouthwash. If the demineralization is localized to the chewing-surface grooves and is no longer active, your dentist may also recommend placing a sealant to prevent further decay.
Stage 2: Enamel Decay
When bacteria hangs around your tooth for a long period, the acid it produces begins to etch pits into the surface of the enamel. As it breaks down the tooth structure, it creates noticeable holes in your teeth, known as dental caries or cavities. At this stage, the bacteria has a stronger foothold, and reversing the damage is no longer possible.
How To Treat
You’ll need to remove the decay to stop it from progressing. Your dentist usually accomplishes this by placing a filling, but an inlay can also restore a tooth with early signs of enamel decay. This tooth-colored restoration is specifically designed to treat cavities that occur in the chewing-surface grooves of a molar or premolar. If you keep your twice-a-year preventive cleanings, your routine digital X-rays will likely detect any decay before it has time to move into the next layer.
Stage 3: Dentin Decay
Think of the dentin layer of your tooth as the enamel’s much younger, more sensitive cousin. This connective tissue lies between the enamel and the pulp chamber (the center of the tooth). Since the enamel is the hardest substance we have in the human body, it’s easy to imagine how dentin fares against a plaque attack. Tooth decay progresses much faster in this layer of the tooth. And if you have an undiagnosed cavity, you’ll become aware of its existence through the increased tooth sensitivity or sharp pain originating from the affected tooth.
How To Treat
The best treatment option for dentin decay is a filling or an inlay. However, if the cavity is too large for a regular filling or, because of the position of the hole, an inlay would compromise the integrity of the tooth, your dentist may recommend an onlay. This restorative procedure preserves healthy tooth structure while restoring damaged areas that extend to or over a cusp, ensuring function and longevity. If decay is too extensive to restore with an onlay, a full-coverage crown is used instead.
Stage 4: Pulp Damage
At the center of every tooth is the pulp chamber, which is where all the nerve tissues and blood vessels reside. Once decay reaches the pulp, it irritates those inner tissues and causes them to become inflamed. This nerve inflammation is what causes a painful toothache. Left untreated, an infection forms around the tooth’s root, and you may experience drainage from the surrounding gum tissue. This is what dentists call an abscess.
How To Treat
The most common course of treatment for this stage of tooth decay is root canal therapy followed by a dental crown. If the particular tooth is already compromised to the point it could not later properly support a crown, your dentist may recommend an extraction instead. They may also prescribe an antibiotic to kill the bacteria. After your extraction, you can replace the tooth with an implant or other prosthetic (depending on your case) to replace the missing tooth and restore full-mouth functionality.
Get your smile back on track today.
With what you now know about the varying levels of tooth decay and how to treat each stage, it probably doesn’t sound so scary! Your Morristown, Tennessee, dentist can determine the extent of the decay in your tooth so you can make an informed decision about the treatment that’s right for you and restore your smile to a healthy, beautiful state.