What Are the 5 Stages of Tooth Decay?

A root canal is often the solution for serious cavities with swelling, severe pain, and infection. Anyone who is experienced this knows that this type of discomfort is often serious and keeps you from performing your regular activities. But you don’t just wake up one morning with an abscessed tooth. In fact, there are 5 stages of tooth decay that lead up to more serious issues like abscesses. Continue reading to learn more about the different stages and what can be done to prevent them from occurring.

Stage 1: White Spots

When a tooth is just starting to show signs of decay from sugars and acid on the teeth, small white spots will begin to show just below the surface of the enamel. They represent that the tooth is being demineralized. It is often difficult to catch this stage your own, especially if it is in the back of the mouth. But this is where your dentist comes into play. Part of his job is to spot these issues early on so that they do not progress to later, more serious stages. This is why it is so important to schedule regular checkups. At this point, the decay can be repaired without having to excavate the tooth.

Stage 2: Decay of the Dental Enamel

In this stage, the tooth erodes from the inside out and eventually breaks through the surface of the enamel. A lesion will form in the tooth and cause a hole or “cavity.” This stage does not tend to cause any pain because there are no nerves in the dental enamel. However, at this point you require a tooth-colored filling and there is no turning back.

Stage 3: Decay of the Dentin

If you have made it past stage 2 and have not had your cavity treated by your dentist, then your tooth will continue to decay to the next layer: the dentin. This part of the tooth is filled with microscopic tubules that allow access to the inner nerve of the tooth. Because of this, you will begin to feel pain and hypersensitivity. A filling is usually still the best option at this point.

Stage 4: Involvement of the Pulp

At this point, the decay reaches the innermost layer of the tooth: the pulp. When it becomes exposed, you will experience severe pain. At this point, the only way to save your natural tooth is by a root canal. This is when the dentist removes the infected pulp and any decay from inside your tooth.

Stage 5: Formation of Abscess

In this final stage of a cavity, the infection has reached the tip of the root of your tooth. This infects surrounding tissue and causes swelling and excruciating pain. If not dealt with immediately, infection can spread and become fatal.  At this point, your dentist will decide if your tooth is salvageable. If it is, he will perform a root canal. If it has progressed too far, your only option is to have your tooth extracted. If you think you may be suffering from an abscess, contact your dentist immediately for emergency treatment.

Remember to keep up a good oral hygiene routine and see your dentist regularly. Catching and preventing decay early on is the best way to protect yourself from infections, abscesses, and tooth loss.


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