Progressive Stages of Tooth Decay
There are many conditions that can compromise the strength and function of the smile, but none are more common than tooth decay. Tooth decay damages tooth structure and leaves the teeth weaker and more vulnerable to serious dental complications. Restorative dentistry treatments repair dental damage to restore oral strength and prevent oral health problems.
Dr. Jon Marc Van Slate offers a full range of restorative dentistry treatments to address the progressive stages of tooth decay. The specific treatment that is most appropriate for each patient will be dependent on which stage of tooth decay has developed. Here, Dr. Van Slate goes over the various stages of tooth decay that may affect our Houston, TX patients and discusses the most likely treatment plan for each.
Stage One: Plaque
Bacteria are the root cause of all stages of tooth decay. Bacteria thrive on the sugars and starches that are left on the teeth after a patient eats or drinks. As bacteria multiply and combine with food particles, they form a hard, sticky buildup on the teeth. This buildup is called plaque. Plaque buildup is considered the first stage of tooth decay. If plaque is not treated, it will begin to damage healthy tooth enamel.
Treatment: The most effective treatment for this first stage of tooth decay is a dental cleaning. Plaque hardens into tartar that is resistant to regular brushing and flossing because it is such a hard substance. However, the dental tools used during a professional dental cleaning are strong enough to remove tartar before it damages any tooth structure.
Stage Two: Decay of Enamel
As plaque begins to damage tooth enamel, the first layer of the tooth to become damaged is the enamel. Decay that affects tooth enamel is more commonly known as dental cavities. Cavities are small openings in the outermost layer of the tooth. This decay leaves the inner layers of the tooth vulnerable to further dental damage.
Treatment: Dental cavities can be effectively treated with fillings. A filling is applied directly to the tooth during a simple dental procedure. Dr. Van Slate offers tooth-colored fillings that repair damaged tooth enamel and seal off the inner tooth without compromising the appearance of the smile.
Stage Three: Decay of Dentin
Once decay destroys tooth enamel, the underlying layer of dentin is at risk. Dentin is slightly softer and more sensitive than enamel, so when the dentin is damaged, a patient may notice slight discomfort or increased tooth sensitivity. It is important to treat decay that has reached the dentin, because this is the last layer of protection before the inner tooth nerves are affected.
Treatment: Depending on the extent of damage, a dental filling may be able to repair tooth decay that has reached the dentin. However, it is more likely that the tooth will require an inlay or onlay (larger restorations that are bonded to the tooth), or a dental crown, which entirely surrounds the crown of a tooth.
Stage Four: Decay of Tooth Pulp
At the center of each tooth is a collection of sensitive nerves and tissues. This area of the tooth is called the pulp of the tooth. If tooth pulp is affected by decay, a root canal infection has developed. Root canal infections can be painful and threaten the entire structure of the tooth. Treatment is vital to restoring oral strength and preventing tooth loss.
Treatment: Root canal therapy can eliminate bacteria from the pulp of a tooth and treat any infection it has caused. During treatment, damaged nerves and tissues are removed and replaced with a rubber-like compound. To further protect the tooth, Dr. Van Slate will place a dental crown over the treated tooth.
Schedule an Appointment
Tooth decay is a progressive condition that threatens the strength and structure of the tooth. However, with restorative dentistry treatment, the health of the tooth can be restored. To learn more about the comprehensive range of dental treatments offered by Dr. Jon Marc Van Slate, schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.