Think your cavity can wait?

The Progression of Tooth Decay

That’s right, tooth decay progresses. It does not heal or go away. It starts out as a demineralization of the outer enamel.  This appears as chalky white spots. When you have a dental exam, we are looking for these spots and will chart them as “Watches”. This means we are going to watch this spot to see if it progresses. At the watch stage, if you practice good oral hygiene including flossing and brushing with fluoride tooth paste, you can stop the progression of demineralization into active decay.  When Dr. Weber points out a “watch” on one of your teeth, it’s an opportunity to step up your home care routine and stop decay.

If however, you do not heed the warning, it will progress. The enamel will start to decay in this spot creating a hole or “cavity”.  This is a slow process that you probably will not feel and is sometimes impossible to see in between the molars. This is what we are looking for when we take routine bite wing radiographs. The decay will show up on the digital image as a dark shadow on the side of your teeth. The sooner we find it, the smaller the restoration.  This is one of the reasons we recommend you go to the dentist regularly, to catch dental disease early.

What if decay is not stopped early? It continues to progress through the enamel into the dentin. This next layer of tooth structure is softer than enamel and decays much quicker. As the decay moves through the dentin, it undermines the structure of the tooth and the tooth may suddenly break. The decay also encroaches on the pulp chamber of the tooth. The pulp chamber houses the blood and nerve supply for the tooth.  This is when you will start to feel sensitivity and discomfort. At this stage, some serious damage may have occurred to the tooth. Restoring the tooth may be more involved,  requiring a crown, or an onlay.

The decay won’t stop there. With the passage of time, it will continue to spread.  It will eventually infiltrate the pulp chamber and infect the tooth. This infection will move down the root of the tooth and out the root tip into the surrounding area. This can cause swelling and pain. A dental abscess may also find a way to drain into the mouth and there may be no swelling or pain.  These are serious dental developments and should not be ignored.    This is the point where root canal therapy is required to save the tooth.  In some cases, a complete extraction may be considered.

Our goal is for our patients to keep all of their teeth for the duration of their life. Preventative dentistry is all about preventing dental disease and the tooth destruction it can cause. We recommend all of our patients have regular examinations including routine radiographs to check for decay in between the teeth. If you have not had a dental appointment in the last six months, please call us to set up your dental exam today!