Stages of Tooth Decay

Your mouth contains millions of bacteria that can aid in oral processes. But oral bacteria can pose a threat to the health of your teeth if left unchecked. Proper oral hygiene and habits can keep the teeth strong, but many people will suffer from some form of tooth decay in their lifetimes.

You can feel more encouraged to seek preventive dental care to keep decay at bay when you know more about how tooth decay can progress. Decay worsens without treatment, so you should seek intervention from a dentist as early as possible. Explore the stages of tooth decay and how your dentist will address each of them when you read on.

Stages of Tooth Decay


The first stage of tooth decay is called demineralization. This dental damage occurs when oral bacteria begin to eat away at the first layer of the tooth, the enamel.

Enamel primarily consists of minerals like calcium, so when these minerals deteriorate, the teeth weaken, hence the name. You can sometimes identify this issue because it looks like creamy white spots on the surface of the tooth.

This phase of decay is reversible, so you should speak to your dentist about how to rebuild strength in your teeth. Maintain good oral hygiene practices to remove excess plaque and bacteria in a timely fashion. Your dentist may also suggest fluoride treatment and other preventive care that can fortify the enamel against further damage.

Cavity Formation

If decay creates a hole in the tooth enamel, dentists refer to the problem as caries or cavities. They can appear dark in color, but dentists can also find cavities through a routine dental x-ray.

To treat a cavity, a dentist must remove the decayed part of the tooth. They restore the tooth’s structure with a dental filling made from composite resin. The dentist can use polished, tooth-colored resin to ensure the filling blends with your natural tooth.

Dentin Decay

An untreated cavity will allow bacteria to continue eroding the structure of your tooth to reach its underlying dentin layer. Dentin contains some minerals as well as soft tissue. Bacteria can decay the tooth at a faster rate once it accesses the dentin.

Treatment for decay in the tooth’s dentin is similar to fillings for a cavity. But if decay affects a larger surface area, the dentist may need to provide improved coverage with a dental crown. The ceramic cap covers the entire surface of the tooth for more extensive protection and restoration.

Tooth Pulp Damage

The center of a tooth is known as the pulp, and it contains blood vessels and nerves within its chamber. Bacteria can easily irritate these tissues, leading to inflammation and pain for a patient.

Dental patients face a high risk of infection if decay reaches the tooth’s pulp. Not only will this advanced tooth decay hurt, but a tooth infection or abscess can destroy the tissue in the pulp.

You may need a root canal to clear away the infection, which will require a dental crown to complete the treatment. In the event of severe tooth decay, sometimes a dentist will need to extract the tooth to prevent its spread to other areas of the mouth.

Visit your dentist to find the best way to treat tooth decay in your smile. Early treatment can preserve more of your natural dental structure, so do not delay this intervention.