Almost no one likes going to the dentist. However, in the long-run, it’s for the best. This is especially true if you catch dental decay or gum disease early on, at which point the problems (and solutions) are relatively painless.
In this post, we’ll be discussing the various stages of tooth decay and gum disease, and which dental services are best for each one.
Like almost all dental problems, tooth decay begins with plaque – a sticky, foul-smelling substance that results from a combination of carbohydrates (from the food you eat) and bacteria (the kind that naturally lives in your mouth). Plaque is acidic, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.
- Plaque begins by eating away at the enamel – the protective outer layer of the tooth. At this stage, simply brushing and flossing more regularly is the best cure.
- Plaque works past the enamel and makes its way to the dentin – the hard, bony layer of the tooth. At this stage, a professional dental cleaning is probably your best bet.
- Plaque eats a hole in the dentin – this is a cavity. At this stage, you will need a dental filling.
- Plaque begins infecting the pulp – the soft tissue under the dentin that contains the tooth nerve. Usually, a root canal will be required at this stage.
- Plaque creates an infected pocket near the tooth nerve, usually appearing at the gumline (it looks a lot like a pimple). At this stage, your dentist will need to drain the abscess and then perform a root canal.
This is also commonly referred to as “periodontal disease”, which is essentially just a synonym for “gum disease”. It is also usually referred to as “gingivitis” and “periodontitis”, although these are actually stages of gum disease.
As with tooth decay, gum disease begins with plaque. It’s what happens when plaque begins eating away at the gumline. This is why it’s so important to brush properly.
You shouldn’t just focus on brushing your teeth in a “zig-zag” pattern. This is how many people brush and they think it’s all they need. However, you need to brush in a circular motion, and while you do so, you should lightly “massage” the gumline with the toothbrush. This clears out plaque from the gums. Don’t brush too hard! Not only can this damage the tooth enamel, it can cause the gums to bleed excessively.
If plaque is left to fester on the gums, the body responds by releasing a hormone that causes the gums to become inflamed. This is gingivitis. At this stage, a professional dental cleaning is your best option.
If not resolved, gingivitis can progress into periodontitis, which is a stage in which the gums have become so inflamed that they begin to recede from the teeth, leading to loose teeth and eventual tooth loss. At this stage, scaling and root planing is your best option. This is essentially a very deep cleaning below the gumline.
No matter what stage of periodontal disease you’re dealing with, your dentist can help in some way.