The 5 Stages of Tooth Decay: How to Protect Your Smile at Every Stage
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a dental condition characterised by the destruction of the tooth structure. It occurs when acids produced by bacteria in plaque erode the outer layer of your tooth, known as enamel. If left untreated, decay can progress to deeper layers of the tooth, leading to pain, infection, and tooth loss.
The Causes of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene and a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. When you consume sugary or starchy foods, the bacteria in your mouth feed on the leftover particles and produce acids as a byproduct. These acids attack the enamel, weakening it and eventually causing cavities.
Other factors that can contribute to tooth decay include:
- Lack of fluoride: Fluoride is a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay. A lack of fluoride can make your teeth more susceptible to cavities.
- Dry mouth: Saliva plays a crucial role in rinsing away food particles and neutralising acids in the mouth. A dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay.
- Acidic foods and drinks: Consuming acidic foods and beverages can erode the enamel and make your teeth more vulnerable to decay.
- Dental erosion: Erosion occurs when the enamel is worn away by factors such as acidic foods, tooth grinding, or acid reflux.
The Role of Plaque in Tooth Decay
Plaque is a sticky film that forms on the teeth and contains bacteria that feed on sugars from the foods you eat. As the bacteria metabolise these sugars, they produce acids that attack the enamel, leading to demineralisation. Over time, the repeated acid attacks can weaken the enamel and create cavities.
Regular brushing and flossing are essential for removing plaque and preventing tooth decay. If plaque is not removed, it can harden into tartar, which can only be removed by a dental professional.
2. The Stages of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay progresses through several stages, each with its own characteristics and treatment options. Understanding these stages can help you identify decay early and seek appropriate dental care. Let’s explore each stage in detail.
Stage 1: Enamel Lesion
The first stage of tooth decay is the formation of a small brown or white mark, known as a lesion, on the enamel. These lesions are caused by the demineralisation of the enamel due to the acids produced by bacteria in plaque.
At this stage, the decay is still reversible, and there are no visible symptoms or pain. Regular dental check-ups are crucial for detecting these early lesions and preventing further decay. For patients with enamel lesions, we would generally recommend fluoride treatments or dental sealants to help remineralise the enamel and