The 5 Stages of Tooth Decay

Preventing tooth decay is a big focus of every oral health treatment plan. Children are especially vulnerable to cavities, or small holes in the tooth enamel caused by tooth decay, but patients of all ages can experience this issue. Canatella Dental explains the progression of tooth decay below, as well as tips on how to prevent it. Stick around for the 411 on cavities — for the sake of your healthy, long-lasting smile.


The very first stage of tooth decay is the development of a visible white spot on the tooth enamel. This spot is where acids and bacteria have weakened the area and put it at-risk of a cavity. It’s easy to miss this indicator, as most people do not visually inspect each tooth every single day. If the weak spot on the tooth enamel is detected in time, it may be possible to reverse a budding cavity with a topical fluoride application.


After the decay is allowed to worsen, the tooth enamel will begin to break down. Remineralization with fluoride and improved dental hygiene are usually not possible at this time. You may start to see the visible effects of enamel breakdown if you look closely at your tooth.


Directly beneath the outer tooth enamel is a layer of softer dentin, which covers the innermost pulp. If the tooth decay is not arrested at the second stage, it will progress until it reaches the underlying dentin. Pain is likely to occur at this stage — you may notice sensitivity to heat and cold or discomfort when you bite down directly on the tooth.


The fourth stage of tooth decay occurs once it has progressed beyond the dentin to reach the pulp, or the very inner part of the tooth. This is the area that is frequently called the “nerve” of the tooth, because it is the most sensitive area. Once the pulp has been damaged, a root canal is the likely procedure.


The most serious stage of tooth decay is the abscess, or when the infection has reached the very tip of the tooth. This is the most painful stage of tooth decay. At this point, the patient runs a high risk of infection spreading to the bones that surround the tooth. In the worst cases, the infection can spread throughout the body and put the overall health at risk.


Fortunately, it is rather easy to prevent tooth decay. By maintaining excellent oral hygiene at home and visiting your dentist at least every six months for a checkup and cleaning, you can feel confident knowing you are doing what you can to prevent tooth decay and keep your smile healthy and whole for a lifetime to come!

Meet the Practice

The Canatella Dental team offers comprehensive dental care from the comfort of a state-of-the-art practice. To learn more about the stages of tooth decay, cavity prevention, or to schedule a checkup and cleaning, we invite you to contact the office by calling 504-717-4259 today.