In this article we will be discussing the process of tooth decay from beginning to end, starting with:
Plague is the main factor of origin when it comes to tooth decay. Plaque is a sticky film that accumulates on your teeth due to a combination of carbohydrates in the food that you eat and the bacteria that naturally lives in your mouth. Considering this, it should make sense that foods that are higher in carbohydrates (sugary foods and even fruit) are more likely to produce plaque.
Here’s how the process works:
- Food is consumed and broken down into carbohydrates during the chewing process.
- Carbohydrates combine with the bacteria that naturally manifests in your mouth to create an acid.
- The acid then combines with tiny amounts of food left over in your mouth after meals, creating a thick and sticky paste. This is plaque.
The bacteria that causes plaque is fed and maintained by carbohydrates, especially sugars. Poor dental hygiene is also a large factor in the thriving of this bacteria, as it allows it to accumulate without interruption.
The acid that is produced when the bacteria combines with carbohydrates eventually eats away at enamel, a protective layer of the teeth. This process is known as “demineralization”.
While this process is often slow enough to allow the body to replenish the tooth enamel before cavities can occur, certain factors determine that demineralization ultimately wins out, including:
- Genetic factors
- Lack of proper dental hygiene
- High carbohydrate and sugar intake
First Stage Tooth Decay
This is seen as a darkening of certain areas of the tooth. It can also appear as a whitening of certain areas as well, although white spots are often only noticed by your dentist. At these stages, the chances of the decay process being reversed or halted are fairly high.
Eventually, the acid that has formed in your mouth in the form of plaque can completely penetrate through the tooth enamel, resulting in a cavity. This can be a long process, often taking three to four years.
Once a cavity has officially formed, it cannot be repaired naturally, but requires professional dental intervention. This is because the living cells of the tooth and the mineral crystals that form the dentin (the dense, bony tissue underneath the tooth enamel) have become vulnerable to cavities.
It is at this point that your tooth will likely begin to ache, as well as become sensitive to hot and cold temperatures, pressure, and sweet foods.
Eventually, cavities will progress deeper and deeper into the tooth, and the decay process will begin to affect the tooth pulp – the soft tissue underneath the dentin. This is an infection known as “pulpitis”.
This is an extremely painful infection, as it causes the tooth pulp to swell, however, the swelling is suppressed by the surrounding dentin, and thus the swollen tissue is focused inward on various blood vessels, squeezing off the blood supply to the pulp. As a result, the pulp dies, resulting in severe pain.
Abscess (and possible systemic disease)
The infection can continue to progress down to the tooth root. At this point, an inflamed pocket called an “abscess” forms, from which the infection can spread to the surrounding gum line. At this point, the infection can enter the bloodstream, which can result in a system wide infection attributed to stroke and heart attack.