There are different stages to cavities, so it is best to catch them as early as possible to save money and time. As you may know, the whole process of cavities starts with plaque on the teeth that naturally occurs; it is the stuff that we need to brush away and remove through good oral hygienic practices. For more information, please check the previous post (LINK HERE).
Stages of Tooth decay
In general, there are 5 stages to tooth decay. The first stages start with demineralization of the tooth. The tooth is protected by the enamel which is known to be the hardest tissue of the body. Due to the plaque and the bacteria making acids and exposure to these acids leads to the demineralization process which is the loss of minerals in the enamel. As this begins, white spots occur on the teeth which signifies the loss of minerals in the area of the decay.
The second stage is enamel decay which is what patients commonly recognize as cavities – the brownish spots on a tooth. Once the tooth goes beyond the demineralization process, the enamel breaks down causing further discoloration in the tooth. This is the stage where the tiny holes appear, and the cavities need to be treated with a filling by the dentist.
The third stage is the decay in dentin. Dentin is found under the layer of enamel found under our teeth. It is softer tissue so when the acid from the plaque hits this level, it is more sensitive, causing pain and sensitivity for the patient. This stage of tooth decay is where the patient would have sensitivity to hot and cold foods. As the tissue is more sensitive, cavities or tooth decay, progresses much faster than it did when it was just at the enamel.
The fourth stage of tooth decay is when the pulp of the teeth is damaged. The pulp area of the tooth is the innermost area and contains the nerves and blood supply. When the decay reaches to the pulp of the tooth, the area becomes infected and irritated, causing inflammation. As the teeth itself is like a hard shell that doesn’t expand, pressure may build up on the nerves, leading to pain.
The last stage of tooth decay is infection. As the pulp contains the nerves and the bacteria affects the area, it can cause an infection called an abscess and create a pouch of pus. This last stage of tooth decay causes the most pain in people – as the pain can radiate throughout the area of the tooth – the jaw, ear, neck. In severe cases, other symptoms like fever or swelling of the lymph nodes can appear.
What are the next steps?
Depending on how far along the cavity or tooth decay has progressed, the treatment methods will differ. This also affects how invasive the treatment is, costs of treatment, and the time for treatment completion for the patient so the earlier the visit to the dentist, the better!
To start, the dentist will not only do an in-person examination of the affected teeth and gums but also suggest an x-ray of the affected tooth to see what exactly is going on and causing the discomfort in the patient. At the Oaks Dental Clinic, we take a panoramic CT scan which shows the whole mouth – all the teeth and surrounding areas in one photo! If needed, the doctor may suggest an individual, smaller x-ray be taken, but the panoramic CT scan allows the doctor to have a clear view of all the teeth and their health.
At the Oaks Dental Clinic, the doctor and English-speaking consultant (for international patients) will explain the process of events before anything begins. After the patient has their scan taken, the doctor will perform a checkup to see how far the progression has gone and the doctor will recommend the course of treatment according to the patient’s case. The patient then decides whether they agree with the recommended course of treatment or if they do not. In the event that a patient does agree, treatment will begin right away or another day may be chosen (according to the schedules of both the clinic and the patient). If the patient does not agree with the course of treatment, they are under no obligation to commence treatment – they can take some time to think about the recommendation and come in on another day if they choose.
For information on how cavities are treated, click here!