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Decaying Teeth: The Lifecycle of a Cavity

People often seek out dentists when they start getting tooth pain, but often the cavity has been festering long before pain strikes. In fact, 92 percent of adults ages 20 to 64 have had cavities in their permanent teeth. Part of the fear of seeing the dentist comes from the unknown. If you have a cavity, will you need a filling? A root canal? An extraction? Every case is different, but we have outlined the general lifecycle of a cavity so you know what to expect.

The Early Signs of Decay

Stages-of-tooth-decay

Tooth decay is caused by the wearing away of enamel – the tooth’s hard surface layer – by acid in the mouth. Acid is either caused by continual consumption of acidic foods and beverages (like soda), or produced by plaque the sticky substance on your teeth that feeds on sugar.

Dull spots may appear on a tooth that can eventually lead to a cavity. At this point a cavity can be prevented with diligent dental care. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and regular dental cleanings can prevent it from becoming a full-blown cavity.

A Developing Cavity

Once the spot becomes a hole, it is officially a cavity. The enamel has either worn away or broken below the surface exposing the dentin underneath. Cavities at this stage usually don’t exhibit painful symptoms and can be difficult to detect on your own. This is why it is important to have regular checkups with the dentist, so that the cavity can be filled before more damage is caused.

Dentin Decay

At this stage, the tooth has eroded the enamel and is starting to erode the dentin underneath. If you start to feel any kind of pain in your tooth it is your tooth’s way of telling you to get to the dentist as quickly as possible. Once the cavity has reached the dentin it will start to decay more rapidly.

A dentist like Dr. Ritzau can still repair the tooth with a filling at this stage, as long as the decay hasn’t gotten past the dentin.

Advanced Tooth Decay

Once the decay has eaten through the dentin the only thing left is the pulp. Exposure of the pulp is extremely painful, and hard to miss. The bacteria in your mouth can infect the pulp, causing the blood vessels and nerves to die. This is very serious and can only be fixed with a root canal.

An Abscess Develops

An abscess occurs when the pulp is infected by the onslaught of bacteria in your mouth. The bone surrounding the tooth can also become infected, and severe pain and swelling are common. An abscess causes serious infections that can prove fatal if they aren’t dealt

with. If you have allowed your teeth to get to this point a root canal or possibly even an extraction will be necessary.

Cavities go through many stages and give many warning signs before progressing to the last stage. Now that you know the stages and what to expect, you can take the necessary steps without fear of the unknown. The best way to prevent cavities is with good oral hygiene and regular visits to Dr. Ritzau’s office.