Have you ever wondered how a cavity forms? Oftentimes we go to the dentist and it seems that the cavity has just appeared there out of nowhere! This isn’t true—cavities have stages of forming in our mouths. In fact, a cavity can even be reversed at some of these stages. By paying close attention to your mouth, you can often spot where a cavity will form or how advanced an existing cavity is. Here are the five stages of cavity formation!
As our teeth are constantly exposed to acidic foods, our enamel takes a beating. Brushing and flossing our teeth helps to keep the bad bacteria away, but depending on our diet and dental hygiene, tooth enamel can still get damaged even with regular care.
When enamel is damaged, you can often see a white spot on your tooth that’s a different color from the rest of your teeth. This is a sign that your enamel has been damaged and a cavity may soon be forming. This stage of tooth decay is reversible!
During enamel decay, your tooth enamel will start breaking down beneath the surface. If enamel decay persists, the surface of the tooth will be affected, at which point the damage is irreversible. Once you notice that your enamel has been damaged—which is usually evident by a dark spot on the tooth—the cavity will need to be repaired by your dentist with a filling. The smaller your cavity is, the easier your dentist will be able to fill the hole without any additional problems.
Dentin is a softer component of your tooth that’s protected by your tooth enamel. However, once enamel decay has taken place, the dentin is now subject to harm. This is when the decay moves past your tooth enamel and into the dentin.
Although this stage isn’t reversible, your dentist is still able to repair this damage with a simple filling. If your tooth decay is left to progress beyond this point, you’ll begin experiencing the pain of a toothache and perhaps even pulp infection.
Infection of the Pulp
After the decay goes through your enamel and your dentin, the next tissue it has left to reach is your tooth pulp. Your tooth pulp is essentially the living part of your tooth that houses connective tissue and nerves. Your tooth pulp will get infected as a result of the decay, which can cause pus and death of the blood vessels and nerves inside the tooth. At this point, the tooth begins to die and a filling will no longer fix the problem—you’ll need root canal therapy to save the tooth.
If the problem still progresses beyond this point, the infection will eat through your tooth pulp and begin to infect the bones and ligaments that support the tooth. This is painful for most patients. This causes a pocket of infection that will be physically visible on the outside of your gums or even your cheeks. At this point, a root canal could still save the tooth, or you may need to have the tooth extracted.
Throughout these five stages, you have plenty of opportunity to stop the decay as well as to treat it. Once the enamel is damaged, your dentist will need to fill in the tooth. Notice the white spots that could mean enamel damage, and always get regular checkups with your dentist to catch cavities while they’re still small!