There’s no better feeling than getting a clean bill of health from your dentist after a check-up. Sometimes, they may notice a cavity. Don’t be hard on yourself, it happens! 96% of adults have a history of cavities. Even with excellent oral hygiene, the type of bacteria in your mouth plays a huge role in your susceptibility to them. There are several things you can do to prevent and sometimes even reverse tooth decay. However, it’s not the DIY internet solutions like swishing coconut oil or concocting a homemade toothpaste!

Read on to learn about the stages, signs, and treatment of tooth decay so you can schedule an appointment at your dental clinic before your only option is a root canal or extraction.

Stages of Tooth Decay

When acids from sugar in our diet attack a tooth’s protective enamel, it causes the enamel to demineralize. Over time with continued frequent acid attacks, this will form a tiny hole in the tooth – a cavity. Once the cavity gets past the hard outer enamel layer, it continues to eat away at the rest of the tooth at a more rapid rate. If the cavity extends to the tooth’s blood vessels and nerves (the pulp), you will feel pain. At this advanced stage, the tooth would require a root canal in order to be fixed.

One reason it is beneficial to have regular trips to your dentist is to spot tooth decay early enough to reverse it, before it gets to this stage.

Stage 1 of Tooth Decay

Demineralization is the first stage of tooth decay. The outer layer of your teeth is made up of enamel, the hardest tissue in our body. This layer is mainly composed of a mineral called hydroxyapatite (calcium phosphate).

When a tooth is exposed to the acids produced by plaque bacteria, the enamel begins to lose these minerals. If this occurs, you may notice a white spot on your tooth. It’s easy to miss, so it’s essential to practice good daily oral hygiene and book your regular dental exams.

A cavity can be prevented from progressing further and requiring a filling at this stage. Fluoride varnish may be used by your dentist to help “remineralize” the tooth. There is also a toothpaste called “CariFree CTX4 5000”, which contains the natural mineral in enamel to help remineralize, as well as extra fluoride. Brushing with this twice a day will help repair small cavities within the enamel. While your cavity isn’t technically reversed, it won’t progress if you maintain an excellent hygiene routine (floss, waterpik and electric toothbrush).

Stage 2 of Tooth Decay

The second stage of tooth decay can’t be reversed, but your tooth can still be saved with a filling. The white spots visible during stage one may darken to a brownish colour. This means that the hole is breaking through the enamel, and your dentist will feel a “stick” when they check your teeth. In general, the fillings required at this stage are fairly small in size and last a long period of time before needing replacement.

Stage 3 of Tooth Decay

Below your hard layer of enamel is a softer layer called dentin. Once your cavity reaches this stage, you’ll need to act soon before it requires a root canal. Since it’s softer than enamel, dentin is more sensitive to damage from acid due to plaque buildup, and the cavity will start to advance more quickly. You’ll also be more likely to feel a bit of pain or discomfort because dentin has tubes that lead to the tooth’s nerves.

There is no possibility to reverse the cavity at this stage. A filling must be placed to help relieve the pain and save your tooth. However, teeth that have had large deep fillings have a higher risk of requiring root canal treatment in the future.

Stage 4 of Tooth Decay

The pulp is the most sensitive layer inside your tooth. It is home to the nerves and blood vessels essential to preserving the tooth’s health and function. The pulp includes nerves that provide feeling to the tooth.

When the bacteria in the cavity reach the pulp, it becomes irritable and begins to swell. Because the surrounding tissues in the tooth cannot grow to accommodate the swelling, pressure on the nerves may result, causing pain. Unfortunately, the only treatment option available to save the tooth at this stage is a root canal. Unless, of course, the tooth is pulled.

Stage 5 of Tooth Decay

The most painful stage of tooth decay is when you experience an abscess. If a cavity enters the pulp and is left untreated, the bacteria will cause an infection inside the tooth. After a period of time, a pocket of pus forms around and inside your tooth.

Abscesses in the teeth often cause excruciating discomfort, which can spread to the jaw. Swelling of the gums, cheeks, or jaw, fever, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck are among the other symptoms that may be present.

A tooth abscess must be treated as soon as possible since the infection can spread to your jawbones and other parts of your head and neck. The damaged tooth may need to be removed if it is unable to be saved by having a root canal. Antibiotics are not that effective for treatment of tooth abscesses as they cannot reach the bacteria inside the tooth very well.

When To See a Dental Clinic

Tooth decay doesn’t always reveal itself with a painful sensation at first. When the enamel breaks down, tiny white spots appear on the surface. There are more serious signs that you should visit your dental clinic as soon as possible. These include:

  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sugary foods.
  • Frequent pain in your tooth (short sharp pains or dull throbbing aches)
  • Spots on your teeth (either white or brown).
  • Bad breath.
  • Loose or cracked fillings.
  • Pain when biting certain foods.
  • Swelling.

Did you know there are homecare products available that can decrease your risk of cavities by up to 74%? Check out our free eBook with more information on cavities and the best products available for prevention here.

At Eau Claire Park Dental, we perform a cavity risk assessment for every patient and will give you a clear and customized treatment plan that will help you feel confident that we are doing everything possible to minimize your risk. Contact us if you haven’t had a check-up in the last six months or are suffering from cavity symptoms to be proactive with your oral health.

Have you had a cavity before? Did you have symptoms before your dentist noticed it? What did you do for treatment? Share your experience with our readers below, so they know what to expect.