Tooth Decay: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Tooth Decay: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention 

The possibility of developing tooth decay is not something that should be taken likely.  Cavities can sneak up on you, cause a severe toothache, and essentially put your life on hold until they’re taken care of.

What Is Tooth Decay and What Causes It?

After you eat, the food particles that are leftover in your mouth become plaque.  When the plaque bacteria break down the sugars and carbohydrates in your mouth, acid is created. This acid is strong enough to soften and erode enamel (outer layer) surface of a tooth, which is the condition defined as dental decay (a cavity).


Tooth Decay Stages, Symptoms and Treatments

When tooth decay develops it starts out small.  If the problem goes undiagnosed or is ignored, the cavity becomes larger and digs deeper into the tooth.

Since there are different stages of tooth decay, there are many symptoms which you can see, feel, and sometimes taste.

The treatment that you’ll need for your cavity will depend on the severity and location of the decay.

Stage 1: Enamel Decay

During its early stages, a cavity has yet to pass through the enamel (outer layer of the tooth).

Symptoms during this time are minimal.  In fact, you may not notice any at all.  On occasion, you’ll see darkness on your tooth, or you may experience slight sensitivity.

To fix enamel decay, our Newport dentist will remove the affected area and place a tooth-colored filling material into the void. Fillings are a quick solution, highly affordable and can last for many years.

Stage 2: Dentin

Once the decay goes through the enamel surface it reaches the dentin layer, which is actually a soft consistency that is very vulnerable to decay.  This means that once the cavity reaches the dentin, it can spread rapidly.

The tooth sensitivity that you experience in this stage will be more obvious. You may feel discomfort with cold temperatures, brushing your teeth or eating sweets.

If the decay has affected the majority of your tooth, our Newport dentist may recommend doing a crown rather than a filling.  A crown is a strong cover that fits over your tooth and protects it from further damage. This treatment does take longer to complete, because it is more involved.  It also does cost a bit more than just a simple filling. However, when made and cared for properly, crowns can last many years, making your investment well worth it.

Stage 3: Pulp Chamber

When the decay makes it through the dentin layer it enters the pulp chamber.  This is the part of the tooth that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue. Once the cavity has entered the pulp, your tooth becomes infected.

During this stage, you’ll experience quite a bit of discomfort. In addition to cold temperatures, heat may begin to bother you.  You may also find yourself dealing with a constant pain that requires you to take pain medication to ease. 

To confirm that the cavity has reached the pulp chamber, we will take an x-ray of your tooth.  To repair and preserve your tooth, root canal therapy will be needed. This procedure involves removing the nerve tissue, sterilizing the canals, and sealing them off to prevent bacteria from re-entering. In addition to doing the treatment on the tooth’s nerves, you will likely need to be fitted for a crown. This will help protect the vulnerable tooth from further damage.

Stage 4: Abscess

The part of your teeth that you can’t see when you look into your mouth is the roots, which are embedded in the jaw. Extending past the pulp chamber are nerve canals that run down each root. Once your cavity has entered into the root’s nerves, you may experience a severe toothache and swelling of the face. A fistula, which looks like a small pimple on your gums, will signal that you have an abscess.


A dental abscess is a serious condition.  You may not get any relief from over the counter pain medications.  You may not be able to sleep at night or wake up frequently due to the toothache. Swelling on the gum tissue around the affected tooth may occur, which can spread to your face.  You may also have a fever.

When a severe infection has developed because of a cavity, the tooth may not be able to be saved with a root canal.  An extraction may be necessary.  A dental x-ray will help us evaluate the condition of your tooth and if it can be salvaged.  If we do in fact need to remove it, then a dental implant may be a viable replacement solution for you.

Cavity Prevention

The best way to prevent cavities is to have impeccable oral hygiene.  Team up with your Newport dentist for regular cleanings and check-ups to ensure that when problems do occur, they’re taken care of right away.

If it’s been a while since you’ve been to a dentist, or you suspect you might have a cavity, then it’s time and see Dr. Yazdan. Call today for an appointment.

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