pictures of tooth decay - animated stages of tooth decay Tooth Decay or Cavities or Dental Caries is one of the most common human diseases. Main cause of dental caries is the loss of minerals from the tooth enamel due to the action of acids produced by dental plaque. Cavities are most likely to develop in pits on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, in between teeth, and near the gumline or at the unprotected root if it is exposed by gum recession. If left untreated the tooth decay can destroy the tooth through the enamel, to the dentin and down to the pulp of the tooth. Factors as nutrition habits, quality of oral hygiene, dry mouth problems, presence of fluoride in water or toothpaste and heredity play a significant role in how susceptible your teeth may be to tooth decay.

Causes of Tooth Decay

Dentists use the term 'acid attack' to summarize the causes of tooth decay.

  • After having a meal, snack or drink, the bacteria of the dental plaque start to convert sugar and carbohydrates of foods into acids. The normal mouth pH of 6.2 to 7.0 starts to drop to acidic values.
  • If the mouth environment becomes too acidic (pH below 5,5-6,0), the acids start to dissolve the minerals (calcium and phosphate) of the tooth's surface creating microscopic lesions on tooth enamel (demineralisation), weakening its structure.
  • Streptococcus mutans is the most destructive bacterial strain in the mouth as it attaches easily to teeth and produces a lot of acid. Other common but less destructive acid-producing bacteria are lactobacillus and actinomyces.
  • After all the sugars are consumed by the bacteria, acid production eventually stops and the tooth has a chance to repair itself (remineralisation) helped by the minerals of saliva and toothpaste’s fluoride.
  • If dental plaque is not removed regularly, or if sugar is consumed too often, then the remineralisation periods are not enough to repair the damage. Eventually a small cavity appears on the tooth enamel. The continuous exposure of the tooth to acids is what causes tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay can then penetrate through the protective enamel down to the softer, vulnerable dentine and continue to the soft tooth pulp and the sensitive nerves within it.
  • Although the metabolic activity of plaque bacteria in our mouth is what actually causes dental caries, the underlying causes of tooth decay are in most cases the poor oral hygiene and high sugar consumption.

    Symptoms - How to check for Dental Caries - Diagnosis

  • Early caries may have no symptoms.
  • Tooth decay begins with a small patch of demineralised enamel at the tooth surface, often hidden from sight in the fissures or in between the teeth. At this phase tooth decay can be identified visually only by your dentist.
  • When the decay has progressed deeper in the enamel, the teeth may be sensitive to sweet foods or to hot and cold temperatures. The dentist will examine the teeth for damaged areas by probing teeth with a special instrument called explorer.
  • Later, when the cavity has reached the pulp, the acute pain or swelling will be a clear sign of dental caries.
  • The best way to spot dental caries and treat them before they become serious cavities is by visiting your dentist regularly for checkups.


      The pictures of tooth decay below, provide an explanation of the destructive process of teeth decay, from the initial stages acid attack up to the total decay of tooth tissues.
    pictures of tooth decay - stage1 
       The first indication of tooth decay are white spots on the enamel caused by the loss of calcium. Acids have started to dissolve and weaken the tooth enamel (demineralization). At this stage the tooth can remineralize and fix the weakened area itself with the help of minerals in saliva and fluoride.
    pictures of tooth decay - stage2 
    If the demineralisation process outruns the natural remineralisation process, the lesion grows. Over time, the tooth enamel begins to break down beneath the surface while the surface remains intact. 
    Once the decay continues and breaks through the surface of the enamel, the damage is permanent.
    pictures of tooth decay - stage3

    Left untreated, the decay will continue to dentine. When enough of the sub-surface enamel is eaten away, the surface collapses, forming a cavity. The decay must be cleaned out and the cavity filled by a dentist.  

    pictures of tooth decay - stage4
    The living part of the tooth, the pulp, becomes damaged. The bacteria invade and infect the pulp of the tooth. The blood vessels and nerves may die due to the infection. Root canal therapy is required to repair the tooth.
    pictures of tooth decay - stage5
    The infection can then spread to form a tooth abscess (collection of pus) around the root tip. As the infection inside the tooth's root canal builds up, the bone around it gets infected. The tooth pain is consistent, especially during the night.
    pictures of tooth decay - stage6
    If the infection is not stopped ontime and a root canal therapy is not carried out by the dentist, the tooth might be lost or need to be extracted.

    Types of Tooth Decay

  • Coronal cavities is the most common form in all ages. Coronal cavities are cavities of the visible part of the tooth (crown), usually on chewing surfaces or between teeth.
  • Root caries is more common in older adults as they are more likely to have receding gums that leave part of the tooth root exposed.
  • Recurrent caries is decay that forms beneath or around existing dental fillings or crowns. Bacteria and food particles can get betwen the tooth and the dental fillings if a filling hasn't been placed properly or if the filling is cracked.
  • Baby bottle tooth decay, a very destructive form of dental caries is common in children who use to fall asleep with a bottle of milk or other sweet liquid in the mouth.
  • Caries may be acute or chronic, depending on how fast they progress in destroying the enamel. In children and young adults acute decay can create a cavity in a few months while in older adults with chronic caries the process of tooth decay can last for years.
  • Tooth Decay Prevention

    Preventing dental cavities can be relatively easy by :

  • eliminating the causes of tooth decay by reducing the amount of plaque and bacteria in the mouth, and
  • strengthening the teeth's defenses.

  • Try the following to prevent dental caries :

    Control dental plaque. Brush regularly at least twice a day and floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth and below the gumline. Plaque removal by toothbrushing cannot alone guarantee tooth decay prevention. Normal brushing inevitably leaves some teeth plaque behind, and even on cleaned tooth surfaces plaque rapidly begins to reform.
    Have regular dental checkups and professional teeth cleaning. Your dentist will detect minor problems before becoming major ones.
    Reduce frequent consumption of sugars Reduce the number of times each day that you eat fermentable carbohydrates or drink sugary drinks. Eat a well-balanced diet that limits starchy or sugary foods.
    Fluoride is the best resource available for strengthening and protecting teeth from decay and healing early acid damage by replacing the lost minerals. Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste is the most easy way of delivering fluoride to the teeth.
    Prescription mouthwashes can help prevent decay by reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth. Chewing sugarless gums can also help preventing cavities.
    Seal fissures. In children, new molars can be protected from dental caries by dental sealants as soon as they emerge. Sealants can help adults too, but they are only effective against tooth decay on the biting surfaces of molars and premolars.

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