Protect Those Pearly Whites: The Five Stages of Tooth Decay

Unless they experience a toothache or tooth sensitivity, many dental patients are surprised to learn they have a cavity. While the Gentry Dentistry team makes every effort to help our patients avoid tooth decay with regular cleanings, checkups, and x-rays – as well as talking about the importance of brushing, flossing, and avoiding sugar whenever possible – tooth decay can happen to even the most committed flossers and brushers. So you’re not caught off-guard during your next visit to Gentry Dentistry of Suwanee, we’ve outlined below several warning signs – representing the five tooth decay stages – to watch for.

White Spots

Located just below the surface of your enamel, white spots represent the demineralization of the tooth and are visible in your mirror. This first stage can easily be reversed by brushing three times daily with fluoride toothpaste to re-mineralize the tooth. If you’re concerned, set an appointment with Gentry Dentistry, and we’ll conduct a more thorough cleaning and fluoride treatment.

Brown Spots

When those white spots suddenly become brown spots, that means you’ve entered Tooth Decay Stage 2: Enamel Decay. This means the tooth has become completely demineralized at the site of those spots, and you have a cavity in the making. Therefore, it’s essential to set an appointment to fill that cavity, so you don’t incur further tooth decay.

Mild Toothache

If those brown spots go unnoticed, and your tooth decay progresses, a mild toothache – either consistent or when you bite into certain foods – is a likely sign that you’ve advanced to Tooth Decay Stage 3: Dentin Decay.  The anatomy of a tooth consists of the enamel at the top layer, with the slightly more sensitive dentin just beneath that. A toothache lets you know there’s a good chance your tooth decay has progressed past the enamel and the dentin is being threatened. At this stage, you’ll want to be more vigilant about getting in to see Drs. Harry and Darby to get that tooth filled as soon as possible.

Far More Significant Toothache Due to Pulp Damage

Once the decay has reached the pulp, you’ll be well aware that you have an issue. Located just below the dentin, the pulp is a soft area at your tooth’s core that contains the nerve ending, blood vessels, and connective tissue. It is highly sensitive, so what may have been a dull ache previously will suddenly become far more painful. At Tooth Decay Stage 4, a filling is no longer an option, so you’ll want to catch it well beyond this stage. Otherwise, your tooth decay treatment choices include a root canal or extraction. It is vital that you make an appointment with the compassionate team at Gentry Dentistry of Suwanee before your tooth decay leads to a more severe infection.  

Infection Leading to Abscess

Tooth decay, in its simplest terms, is rot – which carries a lot of bacteria with it. As the decay progresses past the enamel, dentin, and into the pulp, you’ve reached a part of the tooth that is connected to the rest of the body through connective tissue and blood vessels. All that bacteria can lead to an infection, which can evolve into an abscess –a pocket of pus at the base of your tooth. In addition to being incredibly painful, that infection can spread quickly into your gums and jawbone. If left unchecked, it can spread to other parts of your body, putting your overall health at serious risk. Once you’ve reached Tooth Decay Stage 5, extraction of the tooth and an antibiotic regimen are likely the only courses of action left to us. Still, it’s critical that you take action right away and make an emergency appointment. Then, once the abscess is gone and you have healed, we can explore ways to restore your smile together.  

While the team at Gentry Dentistry of Suwanee will be here for you and your family at every stage of tooth decay, we encourage you to stay vigilant where your oral health is concerned by brushing and flossing daily, scheduling regular checkups and cleanings, and calling us with any concerns you may have so we can discuss next steps. To schedule an appointment, simply call our office at 770-945-5850 or book with us online at We are accepting new patients of all ages!

Leave your worries at the door and enjoy a healthier smile


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