For many people, the thought of having dentures makes them follow their dentists’ orders and brush their teeth regularly. However, it’s still important to know how teeth decay in the first place. Each tooth has three layers. The center of the tooth is where the blood vessels and nerves are. It’s called the pulp. The dentin is the middle layer of the tooth. The part that you see is the enamel.

Tooth decay involves damage to the tooth when bacteria, or germs, in your mouth make acids. These acids actually eat away at your tooth’s enamel until there is a hole. This hole is a cavity. The tooth decay causes symptoms like infection, tooth loss and pain.

How a Tooth Decays

Step 1: The Beginning

You start by eating food or drinking a beverage with acid. Plaque, which contains, bacteria, forms on your teeth. This creates an acidic environment where the acid leaches on to the enamel. They attack the tooth for about 20 minutes or longer after you eat.

There are some additional factors that help start the decay process such as:

  • Not flossing.
  • Not brushing teeth regularly.
  • Not getting enough fluoride, which helps teeth become more resistant to plaque’s acids.
  • Not producing enough saliva. Saliva does the job of washing away harmful sugars and food stuck on your teeth.
  • Smoking.
  • Having diabetes.

Step 2: White Spots

This is often the first sign of tooth decay. Carbohydrates and sugars that are exposed by bacteria can also produce acid. The acid works by attacking the enamel. This is called the demineralization process. During this process, you or your dentist notice chalky white spots on your teeth. You may mistake these white spots as plaque or your teeth changing colors. However, your dentist knows that it is the start of the tooth decay process. At this stage, tooth decay can be reversed. It takes using fluorides to minimize the damage.

Step 3: Decayed Enamel

If the demineralization process continues, those white spots cause the tooth’s enamel to breakdown. Once the decay has penetrated the enamel’s surface, it reaches the middle layer. The tooth can’t be repaired and the decay can’t be reversed. You officially have a cavity. Your dentist must clean the tooth of the bacteria and harmful acids and then fill it.

Step 4: Reaches the Middle

The next step makes the tooth’s enamel unstable because it reaches the inside of the tooth.

Step 5: Rotten Tooth

When the decay hasn’t been resolved, it spreads to the last layer of the tooth or the pulp. When the nerves and blood vessels become affected, you feel it. The pulp can become infected. You could develop an abscess, or swelling, in the tooth. The soft tissues in and around the soft tissues can also become affected. The fistula, or opening to the surface of your gum, can develop an abscess.

Sometimes individuals delay going to the dentist because the pain or swelling may subside. That doesn’t mean that the tooth is dead or that the infection is gone. When a tooth becomes too decayed, your dentist will have to remove it.

Even babies can be at risk of having tooth decay. Babies aren’t born with decay-causing bacteria. They typically get bacteria when adults share utensils with them. Also, babies who are put to bed while drinking from their bottles can develop tooth decay. The sugar in juice, milk or formula stays on their teeth and the above process begins. It doesn’t damage their permanent teeth. However, they may have to have their baby teeth pulled.

For the answers to more dental questions, seek the help of Preet K. Sahota, DDS in Fremont, CA.